Trash litters the vacant lot where Walter Scott was killed.
Gone are the flowers, teddy bears, sympathy cards and votive candles. Gone are the mourners, protesters and police cruisers. Gone are the news cameras filming their live shots. Gone are the gawkers, slinking along the neighboring alley, rolling down their driver’s-side windows, taking stock of last April’s macabre cavalcade.
There’s nothing to see anymore. Knotty tree branches cast shadows over empty bottles of liquor and crushed cans of beer. Neon-orange signs scream, “PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESPASSING” to any wanderer passing through. A newly erected chain-link fence blocks traffic on the alley bridging Rivers Avenue and Craig Road.
“See how dead it is now?” said one Craig Road resident recently, standing outside on his street. “That’s how it was. That’s the way it’s going to be for awhile.”
Tragedy is a frequent visitor in this corner of North Charleston, hugging the Remount Road corridor. Last April, Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer, shot Scott, who was black, four times in the back in Singing Pines, a tiny, secluded subdivision lined with dogwood trees and single-family brick homes. But the episode began when he spotted Scott driving through Charleston Farms, a mostly black and Hispanic neighborhood on the other side of the train tracks grappling with crime, poverty and heavy police surveillance.
In the days following Scott’s death, the community’s outcry was tame compared to the riots that erupted in the wake of police-involved killings in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore. For many here, Scott’s death was a bleak reminder that progress can be a lead-footed slog.
On a sunny March afternoon, James Anderson, an attendant at the laundromat near the pawnshop, waited behind the counter with his head on his arm and his eyes closed. Inside, customers folded their clothes while the washing machines rumbled and dryers spun. Anderson tries not to think about Scott. Since the shooting, he’s afraid of getting pulled over. He understands Scott’s impulse to run. He envisions the barrel of an officer’s gun pointed in his face.
Scott’s death is a tragedy he’d rather forget.
“You don’t hear much about it,” Anderson said. “It’s like a thing of the past.”
The Rev. Thomas Ravenell remembers when the Remount Road corridor was quiet, middle-class and majority white. His was among the first African-American families to move to the area in the late ’70s. Most white folks welcomed their new black neighbors; others stared. Ravenell’s mother, wary of their status as outsiders, only allowed her children to play in the backyard. Occasionally, she would let them walk all the way to the end of the street.
Decades later, the community’s demographics have shifted. Ravenell’s childhood home in Charleston Farms, like many in the area, has fallen into disrepair, its yard unattended, its door and windows boarded up. For years, violent crime festered like an infected sore. City police moved a substation into the community center, a block away from the intersection of Sumner Avenue and Attaway Street, known as “the Four Way” by locals. In 2013, Dateline NBC featured the Four Way in a segment simply titled “Intersection” — the so-called “epicenter” of North Charleston’s drug trade.
“When you talk about Charleston Farms, this is the heart of it right here,” Ravenell said. “You could come here and you could purchase any amount of drugs you wanted to about five years ago.”
Ravenell, 50, a pastor at Empowerment Missionary Baptist Church, paid a visit to the notorious intersection on a frigid Monday afternoon last month. He parked his black Dodge Durango in the unmarked lot next to the corner store on Sumner, diagonally across from Attaway Furniture Sales, a squat, cheerless building where idlers lounged on the merchandise outside.
He pointed down Sumner. A police cruiser crept around the corner.
“This is where my son was riding his bicycle one day,” he said. “And a guy came up this street, came down, with an Uzi, stuck it out the window and shot my son.”
It was 2007 and his son was 18. He was riding his bike to a friend’s house after school when another young man in a passing car opened fire on the block. He collapsed on the asphalt trying to make it back home. He survived with gunshot wounds to his arm and back.
Ravenell said Scott’s death sent shock waves through a neighborhood where, in his view, conditions had been improving. Calls for service in Charleston Farms dropped 43 percent from 2010 to 2015, but crime, particularly robbery, automobile theft and aggravated assault, has crept up after years of decline.
Shortly before 2 a.m. April 4, one year to the date after Scott’s death and about a mile away from where he was shot, a woman was fatally stabbed with a kitchen knife in her living room on Sumner Avenue. Police arrested her stepson.
While some residents have welcomed the police’s near-constant presence in the neighborhood, for Ravenell, Scott’s shooting strained relations between blacks and law enforcement. He said Scott’s death turned back the clock to the Jim Crow era.
“I think the shooting of Walter Scott left the city back where we originally started from,” he said. “It was almost as if we went back to the 1945 and ’50 hangings that blacks suffered at the hands of racists, of the Ku Klux Klan.”
God called Thomas Murray to the Four Way. That’s the how the story goes. Murray, a barber, was dreaming of starting his own brick-and-mortar shop when he drove down Sumner last March.
God told him: “Go here.” Murray said: “God, are you sure? This is the hood. This is the Four Way.” Three months later, Murray, 31, opened Cuttin Edge next to the corner store on Sumner.
“This is what the neighborhood needs,” Murray said. “We gotta act fast in this community. People say it can’t be done. A lot of people said, ‘Don’t come here.’ People said you can’t make this community change, but I stuck it out almost a year and I’m’a stay here until I see change. And it’s changing little by little. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know?”
When Murray saw a photo of Scott on the news last April, he instantly recognized him. Murray remembers giving Scott a haircut back when he worked as a barber at Citadel Mall.
“I can’t even imagine how the family feels,” Murray said, himself a father of three. “I can’t even imagine how it feels to lose a child.”
His shop was quiet on a sunny Tuesday morning in late March, but by 3 p.m., business had picked up. Murray and his business partner, his uncle, Donald Rickenbacker, each had a client in their chairs. A mother and her three young children waited on the sofa, eating junk food and watching NBA TV. The smell of the kids’ Cool Ranch Doritos lingered with the fresh scent of a floral aerosol spray. Murray propped open the door to let the breeze in.
“You wanna make $2?” Murray asked 7-year-old Kymani Clary, a fidgety second-grader in black Nikes. He said ‘yes’ and swept the floor. Murray handed him a few bills from his wallet.
“You gave me an extra dollar by the way,” Kymani said.
“I know it,” Murray said. They high-fived.
Murray envisions his barbershop as a beacon for families in this beleaguered part of town, a safe haven for neighborhood kids from the dangers of the streets. The shop hosts neighborhood crab cracks and oyster roasts. Murray will offer a free cut to anyone who can’t pay.
Two weeks ago, Murray hired 15-year-old Daniel McRae to do odd jobs around the shop. McRae, a skinny freshman at Garrett Academy of Technology with a pushed-up afro, moved to the neighborhood two years ago from New York. He’s one of those neighborhood kids Murray wants to protect.
On a Tuesday afternoon, he walked into the shop late because, he said, a cop pulled him and his friends over on Marietta Street for waving to a couple of girls.
When Slager killed Scott, McRae’s classmates cursed the cops. But they hardly mentioned the man whose death was broadcast all over national news. For a while, despite the media furor, McRae didn’t even know Scott’s name. Scott was just another black man shot dead.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “It’s just the same thing. It goes on.”
In a neighborhood where police eye him with suspicion, where there’s little to do after school, where his dad orders him home before sunset, the barbershop is a sanctuary for McRae. Inside these walls, McRae has a chance.
“I feel comfortable in here. It’s like nothing’s gonna happen to me in here,” he said. “You never know what’s gonna happen. That’s why you don’t want to be out there.”
Christina Elmore contributed to this report. Reach Deanna Pan at (843) 937-5764.