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COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department and two community organizations held a joint press conference Saturday morning to address the growing violence nationwide. 

The press conference started at 10 a.m. at City Hall.

Speakers included Columbia Mayor Brian Treece, former president of Missouri's chapter of the NAACP, Mary Ratliff, executive director of the Youth Empowerment Zone in Columbia, Lorenzo Lawson, and Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton.

This comes after the past week's events where five Dallas police officers were shot and killed during a Black Lives Matter protest. The protest was organized after two recent shootings of black men by police officers.

Mayor Treece began the press conference by asking that the community come together in unity and support for the victims of the recent shootings. He wants Columbia to celebrate its diversity.

Mary Ratliff with the NAACP spoke next. She asked for the joint meeting with the city, police department and Youth Empowerment Zone.

She said she is deeply troubled by the recent shootings and mourns the deaths of the police officers killed in Dallas and the men shot in Louisiana and Minnesota. 

Ratliff said that she believes most police officers are fair, but some show "dishonor to the uniform they wear."

She said it needs to be acknowledged that there are racial issues in Columbia as well as a mistrust between police and citizens.

"Racial profiling has to stop," Ratliff said. "We are calling for a truce between our black brothers and sisters and police."

Ratliff said Columbia can be a model city if law enforcement and community members make changes to work together.

Lorenzo Lawson spoke next about his daily experiences working with youth in Columbia through the Youth Empowerment Zone.

Lawson said while youth in Columbia may not be murdered by police officers, they are "murdered academically" by having the highest rate of dropout in Columbia's public school system. He also said youth are "economically being murdered" in Columbia due to an inability to find jobs. His biggest concern though is youth "being murdered in the judicial system."

"We can't continue to let our young people be hopeless because when you're hopeless, you will pick up one of those rifles because 'I don't have nothing to lose anyway'," said Lawson.

Burton continued by addressing the shootings in Dallas and noting that he began his law enforcement career 39 years ago with the Dallas Police Academy. 

Burton said that the Columbia Police Department has some challenges ahead but things are going to be different.

When asked how he ensures officers treat everybody the same when doing traffic stops, Burton said CPD officers do not racially profile and that data does not go far enough to show reasons why officers stop people in traffic.

He said CPD officers have had procedural justice training performed by the federal government, are currently in implied bias training and most officers have had crisis prevention training.

Burton also said they are working on de-escalation techniques.

"We don't use force. We respond to resistance," Burton said.

All officials who spoke said they want to work together to make changes in the wake of national violence and make Columbia an example that other cities in America can see as progressive. 

Ratliff said she doesn't want another task force created to do nothing. She wants them to sit down together and create a strategic plan to move forward.

"We've got a problem and we've got to solve it," Ratliff said. "We need to make sure we don't have Ferguson's and Louisiana's and all those places, and Dallas and all those things, here in Columbia by getting on top of it beforehand."

Virginia Law has lived in Columbia for over 40 years and she attended the press conference. She said she supports the police force when they do their job right.

"If they don't, they are not a resource, they are instead a negative force and we certainly don't want that. That's why I was here," Law said.

Law enforcement agencies across the nation are making changes to police forces such as de-escalation training and allowing police officers to patrol in pairs or teams.

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