Coalition sets goals to build ‘trust, legitimacy’ for North Charleston

After civil rights and community groups presented goals for improving North Charleston policing, the town hall-style meeting at Bethel A.M.E. Church Monday night gave citizens a chance to ask questions. John Wright wanted to know if officer-involved shootings nationally have a toxicology requirement for police. He suggested that protocol might take pressure off the police departments and taxpayers and put it on the individual officer, depending on the outcome of such tests.

A list of reforms developed by a coalition of 13 community groups is meant to help build trust and accountability in North Charleston, according to members.

About 75 people turned up Monday night at the North Charleston Civil Coalition for Reform’s first town hall meeting.

The pews at Bethel AME Church in North Charleston were filled with concerned and curious residents who listened for about an hour and 45 minutes as members of the newly formed coalition educated them about proposed reforms they developed and recently presented to Mayor Keith Summey.

The last 15 minutes of the meeting were reserved for questions from the crowd.

Jesse Williams, co-chairman of the coalition and president of the Dorchester-Waylyn Neighborhood Association, said he was impressed with the community turnout Monday night.

“I think this meeting was a good next step,” he said, adding that he hoped it would also help convince the city to be open to making positive progress.

Summey agreed last week to let the group — which includes activists, neighborhood presidents and ministers — talk about their ideas on June 18 during a 10-minute presentation in front of City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

At Monday night’s meeting, several members of the group spoke about the rationale behind each request for reform.

The 11-point list covers a range of social and police initiatives, including investigations into alleged brutality and patrolling tactics said to have unfairly burdened poor black communities and contributed to North Charleston Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager’s deadly encounter with Walter Scott, a black man.

Slager, who fatally shot Scott on April 4, has since been fired and was indicted on a murder charge hours before the meeting.

“We want to build trust and legitimacy,” said Muhiyidin D’Baha, of Black Lives Matter Charleston. “The police aren’t perfect, the policies aren’t perfect, our community is not perfect — we don’t live in a perfect world.”

But, he said, there has to be some middle ground, which is what the reforms seek to find and establish.

Local activist Denise Cromwell, who also spoke at the meeting, said that in North Charleston, “justice is not blind when it comes to minorities and poor people.”

“I know it sounds like the NCCR is trying to take over, and I guess in a way we are,” she said of the reforms, “because the system is broken.”

She added that everyone should be concerned about what is going on in the city.

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, attended about half of the meeting and said he was encouraged by what he saw. “I’m encouraged that two months after the death of Walter Scott Jr., people are still engaged,” he said. “There appears to be a growing number of citizens that are active and that’s a good thing.”

He said he sent a letter to Summey about two weeks ago encouraging him to hear the group out. “This (reform) list came from community groups based in Charleston,” Kimpson said. “Any recommendation by citizens ought to be taken seriously.”

Councilman Bob King is chairman of City Council’s Public Safety Committee, which will hear the 10-minute presentation from the coalition. “We’ve given them an opportunity to come and make their presentation,” he said. “I think that’s the fair thing to do, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they present.”

The group originally planned to ask that Police Chief Eddie Driggers be fired, and King said that is not under consideration by council. That request has since been removed from the group’s list.

Council asks that groups have one presenter, and council members do not respond to the presentations.

“We will take it as information like we do all the rest of them,” King said. “We will discuss it at some point later when the mayor deems it appropriate.”

Councilman Ed Astle said some of the reforms were “doable; some aren’t”

“I want to see how it’s presented,” he added. “I come from a world where you can present a problem, but I also want to see what you present as an answer.”

Similarly, Councilman Todd Olds said he didn’t see anything wrong with extending the coalition an opportunity to be heard, adding “we should do it, but as far as their requests, I don’t see how we can do some of those things.”

North Charleston resident Joyce Thrower attended Monday night’s meeting to learn more about the coalition and its goals. She said she would like to see some of the reforms put in place.

“I think it’s good that someone is trying to organize and start something like this in North Charleston,” she said, adding that she thought most of the group’s requests were reasonable. “I think this is a good beginning.”

Brenda Rindge contributed to this report. Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.