What is obligation of government to those in high-crime areas?

North Charleston, SC, while far less known than the nearby tourist hotspot of Charleston, is garnering recognition it would probably like to avoid.

Although the city makes up but 14 percent of the region’s population, it accounted for 37 percent of its homicides during the past five years.

Last year was the deadliest, with 35 slayings, three more than in 2016. Yet in 2011, by comparison, there were just five homicides. At least some of the increase can be attributed to a change in policing.

Prior to 2015, when North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott after pulling him over for a traffic violation even though the latter was unarmed and running away, city police issued nearly 26,000 warning citations annually, many in minority neighborhoods with elevated crime rates, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

Following the shooting death of Scott, for which Slager was recently sentenced to 20 years, that number fell to 15,000 in 2015 and 9,000 in 2016. It had risen to more than 9,000 last year, but was still well below what it was three years previous.

Proposals to bring back more police activity in areas with heavy crime, particularly violent crime, haven’t been met with enthusiasm.

“Ed Bryant, who leads the North Charleston NAACP, said he isn’t convinced that more traffic stops correlates with fewer homicides,” according to the Post and Courier. “One thing surely did result from the stops, he said: a negative perception of the police among many black residents.”

“Doing things over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity,” Bryant told the publication. “Now you’re going to resort back to the same thing and expect a different result? That’s insanity. … If they’re going to go back there, they’re asking for more trouble.”

More trouble as opposed to what: An average of one homicide every two weeks? A reputation as one of America’s most violent cities? Residents living in constant fear of being gunned down or having a family member or friend killed?

Others aren’t as adamantly opposed to increased policing, but it’s not clear how much more police presence they’re willing to accept.

City Councilman Ron Brinson suggested that a new approach to traffic stops could be customized based on what members of each neighborhood want.

“Do we need to go back to how it was done before? I don’t know,” he told the Post and Courier. “Surely, I think there is a middle ground.”

Shaundra Scott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, said statistical data and personal accounts show that people were being stopped unfairly under the old initiative.

“Perhaps there could be a meeting of the minds,” she said. “But saying we need to go back to those tactics that hurt people is very concerning.”

Some believe that a heavy police presence in minority neighborhoods causes residents to see the police as the embodiment of the government and also creates fear and hostility toward the whole idea of government.

This can been seen, they assert, among young black men who keep their heads down in an effort to go unnoticed in the belief that it is the best way to keep from being arrested.

I do not live in a high-crime neighborhood nor am I a minority, so I don’t feel fully qualified to evaluate those assertions. I do understand that no one wants to live in a police state.

However, a key responsibility of government is to protect its citizens. Clearly that is not happening in parts of North Charleston.

Concern over alienating residents of minority, high-crime neighborhoods is understandable, but shouldn’t there at least equal concern about stemming violence and homicides in North Charleston’s minority, high-crime neighborhoods?

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14 thoughts on “What is obligation of government to those in high-crime areas?

  1. Coton Boll,

    Police image has a lot to do with it, I think. Stopping people for traffic violations is a confrontational situation that probably leaves everyone in a bad mood. I’m a fan of encouraging the police to be less confrontational and friendlier in the neighborhoods where they work. Get out of their cars and speak to the little old ladies.

    The media sensationalizes violent confrontations between police and (usually) black male youths. This probably makes everyone more paranoid, an emotion that feeds on itself. We need to examine what we expect from police, and it may mean spending more time being human instead of strictly enforcing laws.

    • Agreed that we need to look at what we want from police. Are they there to protect and serve, are they there to rack up traffic violations and pad town and county coffers or are they there to throw their weight around, sometimes unnecessarily, because they can?

      Stopping people for traffic violations is good if the person is speeding in an area with children or lots of people on foot; it’s probably detrimental if pulling someone over because a brake light is out is consistently used as a foray to search a car.

      I think it’s been pretty well shown, at least anecdotally, that cops who are good at relating to people and make an effort to get to know the people in the areas they cover, tend to cultivate good relationships, which benefits everyone. Police who want to use their authority as a cudgel are likely to be resented, by both good citizens and troublemakers, which is bad for everyone.

      • Yes, and maybe this is the attitude that needs to be broadcast. There seems to be so much misunderstanding between police and the public that an honest look at expectations and approaches may help defuse it.

      • It would certainly be helpful if the national media didn’t descend in swarms when a black youth is shot by a white police officer, and then imply that a racial injustice had been committed. I’m all for ferreting out rogue cops, but creating an illusion that all police are racist or all minorities are seething with rage and on the verge of riot does no one any good.

  2. I live in a low crime suburb of St. Louis and we are definitely facing this exact same issue. We have a brand new police chief, appointed in the last couple of weeks and his first order of business was to announce a large increase in police presence in two areas of the St. Louis metropolitan area where the majority of homicides occur. He’s already facing a lot of pushback for the move. It’s a tough issue. And a tense time in the in the city.

    • In some respects it’s a no-win proposition for the new chief: If he increases police presence he’s taken to task for being heavy-handed; if not, he takes heat for high crime rates (if they continue). And all the outreach in the world isn’t going to turn the hearts of a small cohort of bad eggs who wreak havoc on the streets. I wouldn’t want the job.

  3. Costa Rica is facing an unprecedented rise in homicides links to turf wars between the drug gangs. Everyone wants more police, more action…and firmer action by the judges once suspects are arrested. The problem is that Costa Rican penal law was formed almost as a bulwark against the sort of state power used by the dictatorships around it and judges have their hands tied. Reform is needed…but is difficult given the power of the drug cartels in the National Assembly.
    My husband had offices in an area of north London which suffered dramatic change when mainly West Indian families were housed there in an agreement between London Councils. Crime rose dramatically and the police had their hands tied…even then…by fear of being seen as racist if attacking those responsible.
    ‘Stop and search’ in south London…again in a predominantly West Indian area… was claimed to be racist and discriminatory by the self styled community leaders – who gives these people legitimacy, one wonders. It stopped and crime rose.
    Decent people of whatever ethnic or religious origin are entitled to protection by the state…that is why the state is granted power by the people.
    Who do you alienate by providing proper policing?

    • I’ve wondered the same thing. In fact, it would appear that government is treating some groups differently, as in less adequately than they deserve, simply because some squeaky wheels are making noise. I don’t expect residents that residents will be able to keep the truly black sheep in line; that’s what police are for. When others stand in the way, everyone (except the black sheep) are worse off.

  4. It’s no coincidence that the new police chief of North Charleston is not white. I’ve lived in the area for 5 years, and it’s gotten to the point where the news doesn’t even run stories on crime in North Charleston anymore. You’ll hear a blurb “There was a reported shooting incident on Appian Way,” and then crickets. I’m not a North Charleston resident, but I’m close enough that it occasionally spills over.

    • I don’t know about your first assertion; there are black police chiefs who won’t put up with this sort of foolishness. I don’t know that it matters what color the police chief is in North Charleston, what’s more important to the powers that be is whether he or she will make concessions for the sake of political expediency.

      • I think you’re undoubtedly right; it’s unfortunate, though, when entities put political expediency before the welfare of those they are supposed to represent. That’s not to say there aren’t black police chiefs that would do an excellent job, but when you automatically remove a sizable segment of the applicant pool, you reduce your chances of finding a high-caliber replacement.

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