Concerned citizens filled a North Charleston community center Thursday night, united in their disdain and pleading for a change in police tactics that they say disproportionately impact the city’s minorities.
Among them was 68-year-old Moses Garrett, who from behind a lectern said he can’t feel at peace in his own city.
“When I want to catch my breath, I drive downtown (Charleston),” Garrett said. “To me, it’s not so much the police. It’s the leadership. ... North Charleston’s biggest problem is replacing the mayor. People are voting, but the system is not working.”
Roughly 100 people attended the town hall meeting at the Alfred Williams Community Life Center on Durant Ave. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, the Concerned Community Citizens Alliance and the Community Resource Center organized the event.
The meeting served as an opportunity for the NAACP defense fund to record community voices and complaints for an investigation it is conducting into the city, Deputy Director of Policy Monique Dixon said.
The organization in July sent a letter to the Department of Justice that called for a federal probe into the city in the wake of Walter Scott’s death. Scott was gunned down in April at the hand of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager.
While awaiting action from the Justice Department, the defense fund decided to do its own digging, Dixon said.
“You are in our thoughts,” Dixon told the group. “We know that communities should not (have to) sacrifice their civil rights in the name of public safety.”
Attendees touched on a wide range of experiences, including one man’s account of being stopped by police three times in a 45-minute span.
On average over the past five years, officers in North Charleston stopped someone every eight minutes, a Post and Courier analysis found last year. Per capita, people were stopped in North Charleston at a far higher rate than any other large city in South Carolina, the newspaper found.
The stops disproportionately affected black men and women.
Attendees, too, spoke of a school-to-prison pipeline contributed to by school resource officers.
Community activist Denise Cromwell recalled her nephew being handcuffed and fingerprinted after an altercation at school. He was in the fifth grade at the time, she said.
“We have to remember that these are kids,” Cromwell said. “I just don’t understand. Why are we treating our children like common criminals?”
Resident Delores Vaughn stood with her 9-year-old grandson Tyrell and spoke of the time a North Charleston officer told her that her own son was dead at a crime scene. Refusing to believe the officer’s word, she insisted that a sheet that had been laid over the body be removed, the woman said.
“He was breathing. ... They stood there with the sheet waiting on the coroner,” she said. “He’s living today, thank the Lord.”
It’s important to treat police with respect even during disagreements, Vaughn told the crowd. Even when police “get nasty or rude.”
“Don’t fight back with anger. There are other ways,” she said. “You’ve got to hold your anger.”
The comments made Thursday will be combined with statements made during a similar event that was held in October as part of the defense fund’s investigation, Dixon said. Those who didn’t feel comfortable addressing the crowd, or weren’t able to attend, were invited to return to the community center Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to speak with representatives from the ACLU. Citizens can also fill out an incident report.
“We need change,” Ed Bryant, head of the NAACP’s North Charleston branch, told the group as the meeting drew to a close. “We do want to effect change in this area.”
Reach Christina Elmore at 843-937-5908.