The U.S. Department of Justice will hold a forum to discuss residents’ complaints of discrimination within the Columbus Consolidated Government.
The forum will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Columbus Public Library, 3000 Macon Road. The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is encouraging citizens to come forward with their stories, said Betty Shaw, secretary of the chapter. The forum is open to all residents regardless of race and ethnicity.
“I hope the citizens of Columbus won’t feel afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation in any way within the community, by anyone,” Shaw said. “If we’re going to correct problems, people must feel safe and comfortable to bring things to our attention so that they can be corrected.”
Shaw said the department of justice contacted the local NAACP after receiving complaints from individual residents dissatisfied with the Consolidated Government’s response to their reports of discrimination. The department met with local and state NAACP officials in January and, after hearing more details about discrimination cases, decided to hold the forum.
The forum will focus on discrimination complaints from residents, not government employees, Shaw said, Employee complaints should be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Nate Sanderson, president of the local NAACP chapter, said one incident occurred in February 2012 when police showed up at the home of a local family to question a 13-year-old girl about possibly shoplifting at the Kmart on Macon Road. Without consulting with the girl’s father, William Foster, the police allegedly handcuffed the girl and took her back to Kmart, only to discover she wasn’t the shoplifter.
Sanderson said the community is also still looking for resolutions in cases involving Tony Carr and Jaquess Harris.
Carr, a Fort Benning fire inspector, was shot and killed by a Columbus police officer in September 2011. The officer, Vincent Lockhart Jr., was chasing a suspect, Alrahiem Tolbert, who apparently carjacked Carr. Lockhart opened fire, killing both men.
Harris, a Phenix City woman, was killed in October 2012. She was hit by a Columbus police cruiser while an officer was on his way to a backup call.
Sanderson said there has been no resolution in either case. District Attorney Julia Slater cleared Carr of any connection with the robbery in 2012. But no decision has been made on whether to clear or charge Lockhart.
In Harris’ case, the last the community heard was that the GBI was investigating it, Sanderson said.
“We got one police officer that’s been on administrative leave for over a year,” Sanderson said of Lockhart. “And then we have another police officer who killed Jaquess Harris — ran over her — on leave since that happened.”
Sanderson said the issues discussed at the forum should be of concern to the entire community, not just African-Americans.
“Discrimination is rampant and a lot of times it’s not race,” he said. “It’s more prevalent here based on economic lines, I would say, more than anything. The ‘haves’ versus the ‘have nots.’ And it just so happens that the black community is disproportionately represented in the “have nots.”