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?