1990s support for police review board illustrated prescient thinking

COLUMBIA, 12/3/12 (Profile) -- "If at first you don't succeed..." is an adage Almeta Crayton has taken to heart.
The former 3-term Columbia City Councilwoman -- who just wrapped another successful Everyone Eats Thanksgiving event -- lost her first bid to join the Council in 1996.

But three years later she was back, with a rousing endorsement from none other than Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters.
"Almeta’s time has come," he wrote. "I believe she would be a very good city council member."

Crayton won a three-way race with 46% of the vote, running on a platform that included support for a civilian police review board, illustrating both her plain-spoken manner and prescient foresight.  The review board became reality about a decade later. 

"You folks know what happens after dark. At night, they can just be wicked," she told a crowd at a March 1999 NAACP candidates forum about police behavior. "The ones that are shady are the ones that get down here, and they rough up the kids or talk real ugly to them. I think you do need a group to make sure that that type of stuff never happens again."

As the first black Council member in roughly 30 years, Crayton came to embody an experience that was unusually alien -- and unduly fascinating -- to most Columbia residents.  She lived in a low-income neighborhood Tribune reporters called "Almeta Crayton’s world." 

In that world, crack deals; abandoned houses; murders; shootings; and a host of other social and economic problems were so much part of daily life, Crayton said she'd "gotten so tired of looking out my door and seeing the same problems, year after year."
Her plan was like a roadmap to a better First Ward future:  fight crime by hiring more police; encourage more home ownership and more businesses in the First Ward; rehabilitate old homes to prevent blight; eliminate havens for criminal activity.
But like too many plans in Columbia, Almeta's road map for better low-income neighborhoods still sits on a shelf somewhere, set aside by City Hall in favor of over $100 million in a) grandiose construction projects that benefit people who work at City Hall;  and b) corporate welfare for the prominent and politically connected.      
It would take Crayton all nine years on the Council to make a dent in the proverbial good ol' boy network, and her efforts would not be without controversy themselves.
NEXT:  Teen curfews, political jousting, a recall effort