The way to honor Tim Haman’s life is to make his death mean something.
Haman, a sous chef and dad, was shot to death 10 days ago as he unloaded furniture in front of his house on Hanover Street on the East Side. There are dozens of murders in the Charleston area every year, but this one was captured in shocking detail on a neighbor’s security camera. And, this time, it was a black man killing an unarmed white man.
It happened quickly, in maybe two minutes. Words are exchanged, then a brawl erupts in the street between Haman and several men. Then a gun, five shots fired at close range. Tim Haman, 41, was dead in front of his house; the shooter rode off on his bicycle. It was right there, in broad daylight, recorded on video.
The East Side is a small place, where the “old people” (blacks) live side by side with the “new people” (whites). Day by day, the old people and the new people, blacks and whites, just try to live their lives: go to work, raise their kids, pay their bills, have a life.
It can be an imperfect peace, this being America, this being 2019.
A neighborhood vigil of blacks and whites in front of Haman’s house three days after the shooting was a worthy effort to show unity, easier said than done. The cops did their job, arresting an 18-year-old from West Ashley, not the East Side.
Then a community meeting to discuss the way forward went badly off the rails. Latonya Gamble, the titular leader of the neighborhood as the president of the Eastside Community Development Corp., criticized whites for holding separate meetings, holding dues “hostage” and not attending meetings because they don’t get what they want. This is not how a leader pulls a neighborhood in crisis together.
Gamble has a thankless job trying to straddle two communities that mostly live parallel lives. The ECDC’s biggest problem is its leadership doesn’t reflect the community it represents. In an increasingly diverse neighborhood, 10 of 11 board members and all the officers are black.
This needs to change. The ECDC — I am a dues-paying member— needs to recruit whites to its board, and whites need to roll up their sleeves and be good and respectful partners. City Hall should help make it happen: Having long ago made the ECDC the neighborhood’s go-to group, it needs to ensure it in fact looks like the community it represents.
The East Side belongs to neither blacks nor whites, it belongs to everyone. Long before racism turned the East Side into a segregated black neighborhood, it was a racially mixed community of working-class families. My own house on Nassau Street, for instance, was home to enslaved people before the Civil War and generations of blacks in the second half of the 20th century. In between, the Germans, the Irish and the Jews lived here. Now Beatrice and I, French and American, are glad to call it home.
The East Side is slowly returning to its roots as a diverse, multiracial neighborhood, a good thing. Yes, some people are getting priced out and there are still way too many shootings and drug deals. But the East Side is also a fascinating incubator of activism, where people, black and white, are working to make it a better place.
Early College High, a charter school led by principal Vanessa Denney, is growing fast at Trident Tech. The Rev. Matthew Rivers, who went from businessman to homeless to Anglican pastor, is rebuilding St. John’s Chapel while maintaining its tradition as a multi-racial church. There is midnight basketball at Hampstead Mall. The neighborhood garden club is busy finding the next “Yard o’ the Month.” There is a monthly litter drive and even a dog show.
Race remains the big divide. But if what we want is a world where people of different races, classes and faiths live side by side and try to understand one another — and even like each other as I do my neighbors — then I would say the East Side is as close to that as any place in Charleston.
The East Side is a work in progress. But rather than being the problem, it can be part of the solution. If we could just put down our weapons and work together like the good neighbors we are.
Steve Bailey writes for the Commentary page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @sjbailey1060.