In Defense of Columbia

Another Columbia shooting. One dead. Two injured. Cue the anti-Columbia posts from some in the city and surrounding areas lamenting “how bad things have gotten” and how this is all because the city “cares more about parks than hiring more police officers.”

I get it. Seeing a shooting in the news is scary. And as Columbia has grown, it seems as if violence happens more often.

But I also know our political climate is one where people like to blame others and get in their digs when things are done differently than they would do in their community, or when blaming is easier than seeking to put the problem in context.

I don’t fault people for feeling the way they do. I hate seeing these shootings as well. I hate that people have lost loved ones. I hate the fear they cause. I hate the bad rap they give our community.

But if you want to know the truth, I love living in Columbia, have loved living here for 15 years, and no, I don’t feel unsafe when I go out at night.

Context is everything, and often that is what is missing from the news coverage about violence in our city.

So far, this year, a quick search of the news and police records show that Columbia has had 5 homicides. And yes, that is a problem. If this trend continues, we could see 10 before the year is out.

But how many of the homicides and shootings are the result of some truly innocent victim getting shot versus someone getting involved with groups of people that they shouldn’t have gotten involved with? I want to be clear that I’m not blaming the victims, but the truth of the matter is that for someone keeping their nose decently clean, your chances of being involved in a homicide are very, very low.

And let’s keep in mind that Columbia isn’t the same size it used to be. When I first moved to the city in 2002, the most recent 2000 Census put our population at 84,531. The most recent Census estimate for 2016 puts that number at 120,612.

Columbia, in just 15 years, has literally grown by 36,000 people, essentially adding a Jefferson City to its population numbers. With an increase in population, unfortunately, comes an increase in crime.

While we’re talking about Jefferson City, let’s not forget that they have had 3 homicide investigations this year. The current population of Jefferson City is 43,112. That’s one third the population, more than half the homicides.

If you’re betting the odds on where you’re most likely to get murdered, which city would you pick?

Maybe your answer is neither. Perhaps a smaller place like Moberly is more for you. They’ve had 3 homicides in 2017. Their population 13,890. With that homicide rate, if they were the size of Columbia, they would be on their 26th homicide right now.

Believe me, I’m not trying to bury my head in the sand here and act like this violence isn’t a problem. I get it. As a parent, yes, it scares me, too. Yes, I want it fixed and fixed now, too. 

But what I'm sick and tired of is people using it as an excuse to criticize the city.

I hear this kind of talk from some quarters of the people who live here. I also hear it from others outside of Columbia who seem to want to knock the way of life here. Although I can’t put my finger on it, I’m not so sure some of it doesn’t stem from a little red state versus blue state (or in this case, blue island) that is infecting our American discourse. Or, maybe it's small-town, big-city envy. We're not that big of a place, but we're the biggest in the area. I know big-city envy first hand from growing up in Southern Illinois listening to how awful Chicago was. (At last count, less then 200,000 call the 2-county metro area I grew up in home, while 9 million people have chosen to live in Chicago).

“All the shootings. All the protests!” (See “Concerned Student 1950” if you aren’t familiar.) Man, I would sure hate to live there!”

Except for it doesn’t seem that people hate it here when I walk around the city. Last I checked, people aren’t heading out in droves to Fulton or Mexico or Boonville or some other small town just to spend a day. I walk around downtown Columbia and see it packed with people. When is the last time you saw a packed downtown Jefferson City on just a random day outside of a planned event?

And let’s talk about the parks for a minute. Is it fair to say we’ve funded parks at the expense of the police department?

If you want to spin it that way, that’s your right. But here’s the truth behind that. Some years ago, Columbia residents were offered a chance to increase their sales tax to give parks more money. They voted yes. Some years later, residents were offered the opportunity to significantly increase their property taxes, with some saying that was the only way to fund more police officers, and residents said no. Two separate issues, two separate votes.

And, you know what? I like those parks. Those parks are one reason people want to live here. It’s because of those parks that the Show-Me State Games come to town every year, drawing visitors from across the state. I would venture to say that those parks help keep some kids of trouble.

The truth is, people are moving here because it's a great place to live. National media puts Columbia on lists because we're a nice place to live. 

And do we have problems? Of course we do. Is everything perfect with our city government? Where is it ever? Is the violence a concern? Yes, absolutely. 

But is now the time to pull the panic alarm, like some residents and ratings-driven media people seem to be ready to do, because the place is going up in flames?

I think the answer is no.

I still love Columbia, Mo.

I'm a CoMo based, politically-independent blogger, podcaster and former talk-radio host. Often wrong, I insist on writing about politics anyway. You should absolutely follow me on Facebook here.