Even as community activists implore residents to remain peaceful during two high profile, racially charged trials, some of those same leaders walked out of a Thursday meeting that was meant to help heal the community.
About 50 people showed up at Royal Baptist Church in North Charleston to hear the city present its latest plan to create a North Charleston Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Community-Police Relations.
But not everyone was happy with plans for the panel.
“I wholeheartedly reject and object to this particular advisory commission because it’s a joke, it’s not transparent and you’re avoiding the reality,” said the Rev. Nelson Rivers, before leaving the meeting to attend another. “The reality is that North Charleston has a big problem between many communities but especially the black community and its leadership and the administration and the police department because you won’t listen and you won’t change and you won’t respect.”
That prompted an outcry from other attendees moments before about half the audience walked out.
“Until people in North Charleston are accountable for their past, this (document) is dead in the water,” said National Action Network state President James Johnson.
The proposal was set for a final vote before City Council on Nov. 10, but by the end of the two-hour meeting, Councilman Bob King said he instead would move to send it back to committee.
“It sounds like this is not ready for council approval,” King said.
North Charleston community members have called for a citizens’ police review board since Walter Scott, a black man, was shot to death after fleeing a traffic stop on April 4, 2015, by white police Officer Michael Slager. Slager got into a scuffle with Scott and said the motorist took his Taser. As Scott tried to run away, the officer shot him in a scene captured on a cellphone video. Slager was charged with murder, and his trial began this week in Charleston.
Meanwhile, jury selection in the federal trial for Dylann Roof, the man accused of the 2015 mass shooting at Emanual AME Church in Charleston, begins Monday.
Those who stayed at the meeting listened to Walter Atkinson, a community relations expert from the U.S. Department of Justice. He read the 9-page paper that outlines the duties of members of the commission, which include: reviewing department policies, hearing resident complaints, helping recruit new officers and reviewing department data, such as traffic stops and internal investigations.
“We don’t want to vote a document that the people are not satisfied with,” said City Councilman Mike Brown. “What we have before us, we were under the impression this is what the people asked for.”
The current proposal, which comes about 17 months after a group first started meeting to discuss a citizens committee, creates a board that can only make recommendations, said Black Lives Matter organizer Muhiyidin d'Baha.
“Our voice is still muted,” said d’Baha. “I am walking off of this board group because this is null and void. The process was not done with any integrity, any fidelity. We cannot trust our city.”
“What the police department and city are doing is saying, ‘We don’t want you people. We are basically ruling you, we’re not serving you,’” said Suzanne Hardie, a member of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry. “We need to remind them they work for us. But they don’t listen to anything we ask for.”