By Jim Suhr
ST. LOUIS — Several residents of a tiny southeast Missouri town said Monday they don’t believe the abrupt resignations of five of six members of the police force after the longtime mayor, a white man, lost to a black woman have anything to do with racism.
The bigger questions among many there: why Parma, a Missouri Bootheel town with just 700 residents, felt the need to have six police officers, and why residents seldom saw any of them on patrol.
Tyus Byrd got 122 votes in Parma’s April 7 election, defeating incumbent Randall Ramsey by three dozen votes of more than 200 cast in the town, which is about 57 percent white and 42 percent black, according to the most recent Census data available.
Just hours before Byrd was sworn in last week, KFVS-TV has reported, three full-time officers and two part-time ones quit without notice, along with Parma’s clerk, city attorney and the wastewater plant’s overseer.
Ramsey told the station the departures were over unspecified “safety concerns.” No resignation letters or the names of those who submitted them have been made public. A number listed for the Parma Police Department rang unanswered Monday.
Byrd, when contacted by The Associated Press on Monday, initially declined to discuss the matter by telephone but relented, saying she could comment after meetings that day. Subsequent calls by the AP to the City Hall went unanswered, as did calls to Ramsey’s home.
Word of the mass exodus sent social media afire, with many news outlets and bloggers speculating the resignations had racial overtones. But several Parma-area residents waved that off Monday, agreeing that Byrd’s victory was more about the need for change in an economically depressed town with little more than a fertilizer merchant, cotton gin and a couple of convenience stores — and that something yet-to-be-revealed explains the departures.
“There was absolutely no racism that had anything to do with this,” said Barry Aycock, a white former alderman. “We had an election, it’s over, and we’re all supporting the new mayor and moving forward.”
Louis Nelson, a black 69-year-old retired railroad foreman who’s lived in the town since 1971, agreed. While crediting Ramsey as a “nice guy” who “talked to me like a man and treated me like a man,” once loaning Nelson use of a backhoe, Nelson said “it was just time for a change” with Byrd, “a well-rounded and intelligent person.”
“Since I’ve been here, it’s like it’s been going downhill,” Nelson said. “And when something is not working, you try something different.”
“Everybody pretty well gets along here,” he added.
Like Nelson, Parma convenience store owner Lisa Kirk found news that the town had a six-person police force curious, saying she seldom saw much of a patrol. Over the past decade, she said, her shop has been burglarized or robbed nine times.
“There was never police around in town,” said Kirk, 58. “We have no idea where the six officers worked or who they are. If they did work, I don’t know where they were.”