Back urgent mission to improve police transparency

The large turnout at Mount Moriah Baptist Church in North Charleston in April for a meeting, set up by the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, on community relations with law enforcement. (File Photo)

The Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) joins the community in mourning the recent deaths of black men and women and police officers.

All of us in Charleston have read their stories and heard the voices of their crying children. But we must do more. The moral weight of this moment calls us to do everything we can to improve community-police relations.

CAJM is a multiracial, interfaith organization. Our model is that of beginning at the grassroots, listening to one another, and bringing our researched best practices to our public officials to implement. Since our organization began in 2012, issues of pretext traffic stops (such as those for broken tail lights), police brutality toward minorities and the breakdown in trust between the community and police have been top concerns expressed by our congregants every year.

This year we could no longer stay silent. the community is suffering and the problem is urgent.

At our Nehemiah Action in April, over 2,000 people from our thirty CAJM congregations, asked our public officials to implement a best practice solution to move us forward: We called for an independent, external audit of policing policies and procedures.

Since that time, tensions between communities and police nationwide have only grown. We have barely had time to learn the names of black men and women killed and police officers slain before the next day’s news brings us a new list of names.

We grieve every death, and we must also tell the truth that there is a distinct pattern of police killings of black and brown citizens. In the past few years, we have seen the videos and witnessed the suffering of African Americans, who have been brutalized and traumatized by this pattern of police violence for centuries. The result is that an entire community is afraid of the police. We must respond.

We believe that our city can lead the way in transparency, accountability, and rebuilding trust between the community and the police.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg campaigned on a platform of transparency. Why, then, would he not agree to an independent, external audit of the police department?

We applaud the city’s use of in-house audits, but the only way to be truly transparent is through the use of independent, external auditors, who will share their findings with the entire community.

One need only look at the Charleston County School District to see the value of an independent audit that could have laid bare the practices that hindered and damaged the system and, in turn, our community.

We can do better in Charleston. Let us commit to the practice of transparency through the use of an independent, external audit of our policing policies and practices. This is the way toward building trust and learning what our next steps must be.

We call on our mayor and the members of our City Council to immediately begin the process of putting out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for such an audit. We call on our chief of police to support this work.

We call on all who live in greater Charleston to join us. We must do this work for the safety of every citizen and police officer.

The urgency of this moment demands nothing less.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Heyward of St. James Presbyterian Church in North Charleston and Rabbi Stephanie Alexander of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue are co-presidents of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry.