COLUMBIA, 5/7/12 (Beat Byte) -- Racially-charged editorials and emails lashing out at opponents of Columbia's Blight Decree/Enhanced Enterprise Zone have sparked controversy for suggesting that members of Columbia's black community are incapable of making up their own minds, and need "baiting" and undue encouragement from "elite" whites.
"In this case, it's a bunch of white folks whipping up opposition to what I (well, all 7 of us) think will help the people," First Ward Columbia City Councilman Fred Schmidt emailed a black constituent February 24, with an unfortunate choice of words. "So which people do we believe, and which do we disbelieve," Mr. Schmidt wondered.
This weekend, former REDI chairman Bob Black prompted gasps and groans with editorials that painted opponents as elitist whites "baiting" and deceiving black residents.
"EEZ critics in Columbia are guilty of fear-mongering, race-baiting
and promoting the Big Lie," Black wrote in both the Columbia Daily Tribune and Columbia Missourian
. "The race-baiting
occurs when critics tell our black community
an EEZ will bring urban renewal....The black community is being deceived
at the potential expense of new jobs that could help the unemployed and underemployed."
The comments ignore an important point about CiViC, a local organization that opposes the dual proposals: several members are black.
At public meetings, they have presented eloquent, historically-informed arguments condeming the re-introduction of blight into Columbia, and demanding accurate statistics about EEZ-related job creation and unemployment reduction that have, to this day, never materialized.
Past blight decrees and eminent domain abuses under the Douglass School Urban Renewal Project
of 1956-66 had a tragic impact on "my neighborhood and the people in my neighborhood," CiViC member Verna Laboy
has told Council members at several public meetings.
So powerful was one of her presentations that Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid asked if she would appear in a promotional ad about civic engagement.
Shrouding the blight decree with a friendly new name not unlike "urban renewal" -- EEZ -- is among several strategic moves that remind CiViC member Tyree Byndom of a chess match. His explanation of how the match was played out 50 years ago and how it is being played out today remains among the best public presentations about problems with enterprise zones and blight declarations.
Both Byndom and Laboy are widely-honored for their civic participation, both inside and beyond the black community. Laboy was a member of the Columbia Police Chief selection committee
and a long-time student of local black history
. Byndom hosts a well-known KOPN talk show -- Kore Issues -- and is among the Columbia Heart Beat's top ten black leaders for his work on neighborhood organization.