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Midnight basketball might return to Columbus under new director

From left, Sheriff John Darr, Marshal Greg Countryman, Crime Prevention Director Seth Brown, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Police Chief Ricky Boren take part in forum Thurday on policing at the Columbus Public Library.
From left, Sheriff John Darr, Marshal Greg Countryman, Crime Prevention Director Seth Brown, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Police Chief Ricky Boren take part in forum Thurday on policing at the Columbus Public Library.

Almost eight years after Columbus Council fired the Parks and Recreation director over the operation of youth basketball, there is talk to consider bringing midnight basketball back to the city.

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson made the announcement Thursday during a Conversation on Community Policing and Crime Prevention at the Columbus Public Library. The mayor was responding to some of the 60 residents who want more activities for youth to keep them out of trouble and from committing crime.

Tomlinson said basketball is under consideration by Holli Browder, the new Parks and Recreation director, who was recently approved by the council.

In addition to the mayor, Police Chief Ricky Boren, Marshal Greg Countryman, Crime Prevention Director Seth Brown and Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr were part of the conversation. The event was sponsored by the Southern Anti-Racism Network for law enforcement and residents to share information about policing and crime prevention.

Countryman said he can’t do as much for the 140 boys and girls in his Junior Marshal program after his money from the city was cut from $20,000 to $10,000.

“It’s going to be hard to deal with 140 kids with $10,000,” the marshal said.

Countryman said taking Tony Adams from Parks and Recreation made a big difference in activities for youth. After midnight basketball, Countryman said the youth would stop at the Krystal for a burger before going home. “We have people making decisions and they haven’t walked in other people’s shoes,” he said of those in control over the funds.

Brown said the seven-member board that approves money for nonprofit organizations has said funding from the city can’t move to new programs if money continues to fund the same programs.

Robbie Branscomb, who attended the July 22 forum on policing at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, told the mayor she’s upset at the response when Francys Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Georgia, asked people to stand up if they ever had a negative experience with police. More than half of the people in the center stood up.

“How do we feel about the fact that so many black people stood up because they had negative interactions with the Columbus Police Department?” Branscomb asked. “I ask this cause I have four sons. When I see that many people standing, it concerns me.”

Tomlinson said the response to those standing wasn’t intended. The mayor responded to what Johnson called a fear of getting stopped by police in Middle Georgia.

“I remember saying several times it made me sick that you had to experience this as a black man in our state,” she said. “There were things repeated that my heart hurts to speak like this.”

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