Coalition outlines ‘goals for reform’ in Scott killing

Different civil rights groups joined one another at North Charleston City Hall Monday afternoon to convey a sense of unity for reform in the city. Wade Spees/Staff May 4, 2015

One month after the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, local civil rights organizations took a united front before North Charleston City Hall to outline their goals for reform. The press conference, which was advertised by groups as a mass demonstration, came swiftly on the heels of Mayor Keith Summey refusing to meet with individuals pushing for a new committee with the power to examine police abuses.

“We will not stand down,” said Muhiyidin D’baha, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charleston. “No justice, no peace, no justice, no peace. We stand united.”

He was joined by several other organizations, including The Coalition, National Action Network and the newly formed Blind Justice. Several local organizations recently joined forces to create The Charleston Civil Coalition for Reform.

The group as a whole outlined its four “goals for reform” at the press conference:

An end to racial profiling, police brutality and the murder of African-American minorities and people in under-served communities by law enforcement.

Independent community oversight and accountability over the police department.

Access to quality education, employment, business development, healthcare, housing and transit for all North Charleston residents.

Transparency in North Charleston government.

“We are sending a very strong message to North Charleston, the police department and its mayor,” said Elder James Johnson, president of NAN. “Let there be no doubt, we will be here till the end, until these reforms are met, all of them.”

Scott was gunned down April 4 by Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager as he ran during a traffic stop. Slager has since been fired from the North Charleston Police Department and charged with murder.

He is being held in solitary at the Charleston County jail.

The shooting was captured by a bystander with a cellphone and the video was publicly released in the days following.

“A month ago today, Walter Scott was murdered in the city of North Charleston, a watershed in our movement because all of a sudden, all that we’ve been saying for years was captured on video and all the horror that goes with it,” said Nelson B. Rivers III, pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church and former national staff member of the NAACP. “Video does make a difference.”

Black Lives Matter Charleston previously demanded a citizens review board with subpoena powers — the ability to compel testimony under oath — but Summey called the request unreasonable. His spokesperson, Ryan Johnson, said that the mayor is open to all reasonable ideas. He said a solution will be found, but it will be “a very thoughtful, encompassing solution. This will take time.”

Government organizations, usually courts, and attorneys issue subpoenas to compel someone to testify or produce evidence.

Penalties for not complying can include jail time.

There is currently a Community and Police Panel, but it never had legal authority to serve in a true oversight role.

Barry Britt, a concerned resident who spoke at Monday’s gathering of about 50 people, said in addition to the goals for reform, he was calling for all complaints against officers to be reopened and reinvestigated.

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard urged everyone in the community to register to vote and spoke about body camera legislation and the community’s efforts to get something passed.

“If we don’t make the change, then we have done nothing,” said the Charleston Democrat, adding, “Walter L. Scott would have died in vain, and all the other black men would have died unjustly.”

About three miles away from the gathering, all that remained of the T-shirts, banners, flowers and messages of support from a month ago marking the spot where Scott was killed, was a skinny wooden cross and some flowers surrounding it.

Denise Cromwell, of Blind Justice, said she witnessed the taking down of the elaborate memorial last week when she stopped by the area off Remount and Craig roads.

“When I looked in that trash can (where much of the memorial was put), I just thought, ‘Oh my God,’ it felt like my whole insides were just torn apart,” she said. “I just thought it was so insensitive to dismantle everything. ... I know it’s private property, but at the end of the day, I also feel like, spiritually, it’s a moral issue.”

Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.