‘Messing with the innocent people’ after violent crimes

Randy Ellis is searched by a North Charleston police officer outside the Masters Inn on Rivers Avenue, where Ellis had been living at the time of a shooting in June. Since moving in, Ellis said he had been subjected to random searches several times, because the neighborhood is known for drugs and violence.

Randy Ellis sat behind a shaded picnic table and shot the breeze with a friend one recent afternoon outside the Masters Inn on Rivers Avenue.

Engines roaring, four police cruisers stopped nearby, gravel scratching the pavement underneath their tires. The officers who climbed out informed Ellis of two recent shootings at the motel; the police were just making sure everyone belonged.

Reluctantly, the 55-year-old Ellis and his friend agreed to a search. If he didn’t, Ellis said later, the officers would have given him problems.

“We didn’t do nothing wrong,” Ellis told them. “We’re just sitting around.”

The officers found nothing on the men, save for the folding knife clipped to Ellis’ jeans pocket.

Not based on any observed violation or perceived suspicious activity, such stops by the North Charleston police are common after violent crimes. A motel guest had been arrested the night before on charges that he shot at the wrecker repossessing his car.

For Ellis, it was his third time being frisked in the three weeks. Each time, he insisted that he knew nothing about the violence, the drugs, the prostitution at the motel.

He considered the practice harassment. Ellis, who is white, denied that it was racially motivated, but acknowledged his friend’s thesis that because violence is happening in black communities, black people are targeted more often.

The officers left and stopped a younger black man and his girlfriend. For Ellis, it was deja vu — the same couple had been questioned the night before.

“They are messing with the innocent people, and I don’t understand why,” Ellis said. “They try to say it’s for our safety.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414.