Missouri continues to be the site of great racial tension and turmoil, following the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014 in Ferguson. Recently, Parma, a tiny town about 200 miles south of Ferguson, elected their first black mayor Tyus Byrd. After she was sworn in, Byrd immediately had to deal with several resignations, including five police officers and their chief, the city attorney, the city clerk and the wastewater treatment manager.
They all claim their decisions to resign are not racially motivated, and if that is true then at the very least this may be a reflection of the police department’s fear of some much-needed change. This situation is another reminder that Ferguson is not the only place where racism and lack of supervision for our police force has so blatantly infected our country.
Byrd replaced Mayor Randall Ramsey, a white man, from his 37-year position by 37 votes. The town has about 700 residents, which according to the most recent census data is about 57 percent white and 42 percent black. Byrd said she had never encountered a racial problem in Parma nor did she believe the wave of resignations were racially motivated.
That being said, about two weeks prior to the election, a white male police officer used a taser on a black teen during an investigation about prank calls being made to the police station. This did cause concern for some residents. But even if it wasn’t that specific incident, it’s fair to be worried about the police force or local government with all of the other horrible incidents occurring nationwide. Most every town, city and state should be taking a look at their law enforcement departments.
The individuals who resigned gave virtually no notice, but did cite “safety concerns” as their reason for leaving. It’s seems oddly coincidental that as soon as a black woman becomes mayor they would feel this way. Why does electing a female African American mayor suddenly create safety concerns for white police officers?
Former assistant police chief Rich Medley, who was among those who resigned following Byrd’s win, told the Post-Dispatch he felt threatened by Byrd’s induction as mayor.
“Rather than put my life in danger more than I do now on a daily basis, I decided to walk away,” Medley said.
Although the town has around 740 people and six members on their police force, some citizens told The New York Times they rarely saw any police officers on patrol.
Lisa Kirk is a local Parma convenience store owner. She said in an April 20 ABC News article that her store had been burglarized or robbed about nine times. Kirk said she was surprised to hear they had such a large police force considering the population size of their town and the apparent lack of law enforcement presence.
Ferguson and Parma are not the only places in need of change. But people are still denying any step toward reform, actively attempting to sabotage change, and fail to even acknowledge that there is a problem. Parma elects their first black mayor and five out of their six-member police force quit. Some even left town completely.
People are afraid of change. I’d be willing to bet that, in actuality, Byrd may have decided to run because she saw the racial tension and worried citizens. Ironically that led to the resignation of almost the entire department whose purpose is to protect residents. It’s impossible to prove that the police officers or city officials are racist, but the idea that they would rather give up and move out than deal with any change, good or bad, reflects the attitude that we should stand against.