Racial profiling concerns topic of town hall meeting

Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon (left to right), Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott and Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen greet each other Thursday night.

Dave Munday

Local law-enforcement leaders and members of the black community met for two hours Thursday to talk about why blacks were more likely than whites to be busted for pot.

The NAACP says it’s because officers are more likely to stop blacks in the first place and more likely to arrest a black man for possession than a white man. The allegations surfaced earlier this month after an ACLU study cited numbers showing that more blacks than whites are charged with possession of marijuana, even though more whites than blacks use marijuana.

The Charleston NAACP organized a town-hall meeting Thursday to discuss the allegations. About 75 people showed up for the meeting at Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston.

Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon and Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen both sat through the two-hour meeting, along with several of their top officers. North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers had to attend another community meeting, and Mount Pleasant Police Chief Carl Ritchie also had a prior commitment, according to the Rev. Joe Darby, an NAACP officer who acted as moderator for the meeting.

Organizers were optimistic the meeting would kick off a continuing dialogue.

Both Cannon and Mullen said they’ve seen no evidence that their officers are engaging in racial profiling. But they promised to keep talking about the issue.

“Clearly this is a very important topic and one that I take very seriously,” Mullen said. “This is an opportunity for us to look at an issue that is important to the community.”

On the other hand, Mullen said he sends more officers to neighborhoods with the worst drug problems and tries to help officers avoid bias in how they treat people.

“We’re not targeting any particular community for marijuana possession,” he said.

Cannon said allegations that his deputies were picking on blacks “hurt me, because I know we … do not target any particular group.”

Cannon also said he tries to monitor deputies and listen to complaints to weed out any racial bias but is trying to understand the concerns he’s hearing.

“This has us looking at what we do … how we train … how we monitor what we do,” he said.

Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott said she will keep pressing local law-enforcement leaders to study the problem more.

“I find it difficult to dismiss what we know as facts,” she said. “Racial profiling happens. … I’m sick and tired of people telling me it’s not really what you see, don’t believe your lying eyes. … I know everybody has racial profiling stories.”

A loud “amen” came from the audience.

More than a dozen members of the audience stood up one by one to give their own stories of being unfairly targeted by police.

Charleston County Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas encouraged citizens to file complaints — including dates, places, and badge numbers — if they feel they’ve been unfairly targeted.

“We want to address those officers that have problems,” he said.

An audience member said he has complained but never seen anything change as a result.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.