From grief to resolve in North Charleston

A mourner holds a candle during a vigil outside city hall protesting the shooting death of Walter Scott Wednesday, April 8, 2015, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

BY RON BRINSON

Walter Scott is dead. His family and a universe of good friends grieve in a foggy void of understanding why.

Michael and Jamie Slager are having a baby. Their joyful anticipation is now transformed to a gripping uncertainty about their family’s future. Michael, the energetic and well-trained North Charleston cop, has been summarily fired. He sits in jail, charged with Walter Scott’s murder. The Slager baby is due May 22.

The connector of these polar points of death and birth, grief and joy — and numbing disappointment — is a dagger to my city’s spiritual heart.

The video is explicit, and the “whys” haunt us.

On an overcast Saturday morning in front of a Remount Road auto parts store, Slager stopped the older model Mercedes Scott was driving for having a faulty brake light.

Mr. Scott “ran” after explaining to Slager that he didn’t have registration and insurance documents because he had not yet completed the purchase of the car he was driving.

The “whys” and “what-ifs” abound.

And we are reminded that there are so many variables in policing — but we are all certain Mr. Scott should be with his family today and Michael Slager should be home with his wife and two stepchildren.

With no easy answers, North Charleston must respond from an international stage, above the understandable din of shock and outrage, all covered with repetitive parsing in the news media.

So be it, and here’s North Charleston’s summary message — “We Get It and We Care!”

Mayor Keith Summey declared that what happened should not have, and our city is reviewing and rebooting, determined to understand, to learn and to remedy.

And it’s okay if the whole world is watching.

Because we will get it right.

Transparency and accountability equal credibility. Mayor Summey, working through his own emotional disappointments, has primed those values before a global audience that has noticed.

And for that, we city councilmen could not be prouder of our mayor.

The justice system will protect Mr. Slager’s rights. The city will comfort and care for Mr. Scott’s family — and keep Mrs. Slager on the city’s health insurance rolls.

Yes, we care.

At meetings this week with many leaders of our African American communities, the dialogue was constructive and candid.

There was agreement that at its best, policing is a mutual-relationship enterprise.

Our city has done a lot, it will do more.

The mayor reports constantly on the challenging realities of recruiting African Americans to our police ranks. We talk about his community outreach initiatives, such as policemen coaching more than 100 mostly African America young women in “Powder Puff” football leagues, and policemen heading up police Explorer Scout groups.

Our confidence grows with reports about Police Chief Eddie Driggers’ direct and personal contacts with folks in all neighborhoods. Professionalism is a guiding standard for our city’s accredited police department, and cops who don’t measure up are ushered out.

But progress is a fragile process, and Mr. Scott’s tragic encounter with PFC Slager called to question every good effort the city has made in recent years to nurture mutual-trust policing relationships, especially with the African American community.

In those working meetings, Mayor Summey and his team welcomed input and counsel, and the community leaders were responsive. Many city councilmen were impressed with the progress acknowledged by church and neighborhood leaders — and their support of Summey’s ongoing initiatives.

The whole world watching should know, too, that North Charleston is not a garden variety municipality. The local audience might also pay attention.

Our city is a diverse demographic entity spanning nearly 80 square miles. There are pockets of abject poverty and certain high crime zones.

North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest municipality — and the center of the state’s manufacturing resurgence.

The city is the broad shoulders host of the web of train tracks, major highways and international airport that sustain greater Charleston’s economic operations.

And North Charleston has been recognized and honored for its old neighborhoods and its new ones, too; for its environmental protection value system — and for being eclectic and cool.

From top to bottom, the city’s policemen and women were stunned by the Walter Scott killing. As Summey said Tuesday when he announced Slager’s firing, “The bad decisions of one officer do not reflect the values and professionalism we see throughout our police force.”

Chief Driggers has been especially affected. “These men and women are like my children,” he said tearfully during a news conference Tuesday. “It’s disappointing; it’s sad.”

It’s that and more, chief. It’s a perfect storm of tragedy and profound sadness for two families — and a city that really does care.

Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston City councilman and a native of the city. He can reached at rbrin1013@gmail.com.