Illumination Project gathers input

Deputy Chief Jerome Taylor kicks off the Illumination Project meeting Wednesday night at the International Longshoremen’s Association Hall. “We have a lot in common with the NAACP,” Taylor said. “We work to make the community better.”

Jamal Middleton attended Wednesday night’s Illumination Project police listening session with low expectations. A Charleston native who grew up in East Side housing projects, he said he had been the subject of racial profiling and random searches ever since he was a young man.

“I came here tonight with zero expectations because I just have no interest in continuing to beat my head against the wall,” Middleton said.

The Illumination Project, funded by the Charleston Police Fund and other community organizations in the wake of the Emanuel AME Church shooting, is meant to foster better community relations through a series of listening session and brainstorming events. But even after Wednesday night’s meeting, co-hosted by the NAACP Charleston branch in the International Longshoremen’s Association Hall on the East Side, Middleton remained skeptical that change would ever come to what he saw as a “perpetual cycle” of mistrust.

Wednesday night’s meeting drew a crowd of about 70 that included police officers, facilitators and several community leaders. Members of the Illumination Project steering committee have struggled to attract residents other than community leaders, and they organized the event at the ILA Hall partly in hopes of making East Side residents feel at home.

NAACP Branch President Dot Scott said she wasn’t able to get any residents of the nearby Bridgeview Village apartment complex to come out Wednesday night, but she will keep trying. Bridgeview was the site of the 2014 death of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell, which set off feelings of police distrust after witness accounts clashed with the account of an officer on the scene.

“If there’s another opportunity to do it, I will, because it’s valuable,” Scott said.

For a list of upcoming Illumination Project events, visit charlestonpolicefund.org.

Reach Paul Bowers at 843- 937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.