Black Lives Matter softens tone after ‘emotional’ day

Afternoon traffic was stopped as protestors with Black Lives Matters block traffic on Remount Rd., at Shelton Street, Monday April 13, 2015. Grace Beahm/Staff

The local Black Lives Matter group on Tuesday “toned down the rhetoric” used after the police shooting death of Walter L. Scott and turned what began as a list of demands into an outline of goals for reform in North Charleston.

A day after some protests blocked roads in the city, the group tempered demonstrations on the day that had been touted as “Shutdown Tuesday.”

Kwadjo Campbell, a mediator from JC-Associates volunteering for Black Lives Matter Charleston, said members had pulled back on some things that were said Monday, a busy day for the group.

“(It) was pretty emotional,” Campbell, a former Charleston city councilman, said. “There was a lot going on.”

The group, which formed during a larger national movement after police-involved deaths in Missouri and New York, took to the streets for several protests after Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager shot Scott in the back April 4. During their appearances, they have made several requests, including a citizens board to review alleged police abuses.

On Monday, some of the protests escalated, and members of the group, along with participants from places such as Ferguson, Mo., twice blocked Remount Road and once clogged an entrance to City Hall. Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice, also appeared at a news conference and encouraged civil disobedience.

While the group welcomed the outsiders’ support, Campbell said local members are “ultimately ... dictating this.”

“They’re not here for the show,” he said of the locals. “They’re here for substantive change.”

James Johnson, president of the local branch of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said he met with members of the Black Lives Matter group on Sunday and explained that he didn’t like some of the demonstrations they were staging.

But the tactics continued Monday when they chanted, “If Walter don’t get (justice), shut it down.”

Johnson said the group members eventually got the message he tried to convey.

“I told them they would not be sitting down at the table (with officials) with that kind of language and that kind of demonstration and disrupting traffic,” he said. “Their purpose would not be met. I think they realized they had to stop.”

Thomas Dixon, a North Charleston activist and co-founder of The Coalition: People United To Take Back Our Community, had grown worried about some of the tactics he saw protesters using.

Dixon found Shabazz’s remarks especially troubling, though he welcomed the Washington lawyer and former New Black Panther Party leader to discuss with him how the community should take up their issues.

In Ferguson, where some protests turned violent after the police-involved death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, officials attributed most of the upheaval to out-of-towners with plans to riot instead of talking about how to solve the community’s problems.

“I appreciate people coming if they come in peace and help keep the peace,” Dixon said. “Anything other than that is unacceptable. They’ve got to get back on whatever bus or plane they came in on and go home.”

The group initially asked for Police Chief Eddie Driggers’ resignation and for half of his agency’s annual budget to be dedicated to community programs, but Campbell said the earlier reported list of demands had been revised and its language was “softened up.” Campbell said that Black Lives Matter “toned down the rhetoric” to keep the peace in North Charleston.

Mayor Keith Summey on Tuesday called the earlier demands “unrealistic and unreasonable.”

Campbell declined to reveal the group’s new “10-point list of reforms” but said they plan to present them to the city soon. He instead spoke of three broad goals for reform that Black Lives Matter Charleston has established and a teaser of one request.

Group members will call for further investigation of previous complaints filed with the Police Department’s internal affairs unit, he said.

Campbell would not say if the group would renew its call for Driggers to resign, but he acknowledged that some members still had strong feelings about who should be in charge of the department.

“We feel the North Charleston Police Department should be led by someone who really understands the community and these issues and has a sensitivity to these issues,” he said. “A lot of people feel that Chief Driggers is not that man.”

The group will give the city a reasonable amount of time to respond to the suggestions once presented, Campbell said, not just 24 hours.

No other shutdowns or protests are planned, he added, but the group will continue gathering for something called “Moral Monday” to keep their cause in the public eye. Campbell didn’t expect activity to “rev up” again unless Summey “doesn’t keep his word,” he said.

“As long as the mayor moves in good faith, then Muhiyidin (D’Baha, a group leader) and Black Lives Matter is going to move in good faith,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, we want meaningful reform.”

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information. There will not be a North Charleston City Council meeting Thursday night, according to the city. Black Lives Matter Charleston representatives had said they were going to approach officials with a list of requested reforms at the meeting.