The Charleston Police Department deserves a lot of credit for catching the men who allegedly killed Marley Lion.
It was a particularly senseless murder, and it brought a lot of bad publicity to the Ardmore neighborhood, which has made great progress in cleaning up its streets over the past few years. Ardmore residents were quick to applaud the police work — which they contributed to in no small way. But for some folks in the black community, this high-profile case raised another question as well: Are the police going to put this much effort into every murder?
“If this has brought closure to that family, I’m grateful,” says the Rev. Christian King, acting president of the Ardmore Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association. “We have several unsolved crimes, and there is no closure for those families. Now the bar has been raised, and I would hope they give everyone the same kind of service.”
That is a concern several residents have broached in the last month.
The police were extremely visible in Ardmore as they pursued Lion’s killers. As they should.
But it has led to the impression that this murder, admittedly tragic, was somehow more important than others. The underlying subtext here is that the same level of outrage and effort does not apply every time a black man is killed. It’s not an easy thing to talk about, but it should be addressed.
City officials say they treat every unsolved homicide the same, and point out that the last four murders in Charleston — all African-American victims — were solved within two weeks.
That should say something.
And to be fair, some of this is the result of media coverage. The newspaper and local television stations latched on to the random killing of a young man by people he obviously didn’t know. And when an actual video of the shooting surfaced, it raised the case’s profile even more.
“I think it (the coverage) altered the perception,” Mayor Joe Riley says. “Because it happened the way it happened, it caught the media’s attention, deservedly so.”
But Riley points out that the 2009 killing of another teenager, Jamal Brown, resulted in a similar high-profile investigation. Riley still carries Brown’s photo in his wallet, and Police Chief Greg Mullen mentioned Brown on Tuesday.
“There are certain cases that really strike a nerve,” he says. “This was one, and the Jamal Brown case was one. Even the criminals we talked to would tell you that this isn’t right.”
Mullen says his officers’ hard work rarely garners as much public attention as it did this time. But that ultimately made the difference because people knew about the case and helped.
“In cases that are unsolved, it’s because we’ve done everything we can, but nobody comes forward wanting to help us,” he says. “It’s not for lack of effort or resources.”
Mullen has set up summer camps around the community to help kids stay busy and give them positive role models. Those are not the actions of someone who doesn’t care.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP, says she’s glad the people allegedly responsible for this horrible crime have been taken off the street. She says her heart bleeds for the Lion family. No one deserves that fate.
Scott believes the police sometime react to the pressure put upon them by the victim’s family and politicians, and other families may not apply such pressure. But this only adds to the negative perception in the black community.
“It’s painful to live in a community where people feel their lives are worth less than others,” Scott says. “As long as people feel that way, we are losing.”
This is an ongoing theme in the Lowcountry. Some residents, including Scott, have been critical of North Charleston police for their treatment of black residents in their effort to reduce crime in the community. It is a fine line to walk, and police are in the unenviable position of keeping people safe while not trampling on anyone’s rights.
The bottom line here is Lion’s slaying was a tragedy. They all are. The only way to ease community distrust is to change perception. The police and media should be just as open and focused on every homicide investigation. And the community must be willing to get involved, too.
“We’re going to work hard for every family to resolve every crime we can,” Mullen says. “If the community will help, we’ll be successful.”
On Tuesday, Charleston police proved that system can work. Perhaps a little more talk, and a little more trust, would go a long way toward restoring faith in that old adage about “justice for all.”
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.