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CAJM Rally: Elected Officials, Is No Your Final Answer?
4/20/2016 3:01:05 PM

By Beverly Gadson-Birch 

“No” seems to have been the final answer for some elected officials at the Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) Rally held Monday night at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church where Charleston, North Charleston and Charleston County School officials were called upon to respond to unfair, unjustifiable and racial discrimination. It was standing room only. The crowd was estimated at over 2,200. CAJM is faith based and has 30 churches whose foundation can be found in Micah 6:8. The key command in Micah is “do justice”. While the key component of CAJM is “justice”, CAJM is also about equity, accountability, diversity, relationships, reconciliation and livability. It’s about making Charleston and North Charleston a wonderful place to live cohesively without fear or retaliation.

Last year at CAJM’s fall meeting the group proposed several problematic areas of concerns and adopted “Racial Discrimination”. The timing was ripe. After all, it was one of the most tragic and devastating year with the killing of nine church goers including the pastor of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in the City of Charleston by avowed racist Dylann Roof and the murder of Walter Scott by North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager.

Within the past five years, Charleston Police conducted 127,000 stops for minor offenses such as dim or no license plate lights, broken brake lights, driving too close to the white line, not signaling before changing lanes or dark tinted windows. North Charleston Police within the same time period made 130,000 stops for the same offenses. In Charleston, 41% of those stopped were Blacks while comprising only 29% of the population. In North Charleston, 65% of the stops were Blacks while comprising 47% of the population. Columbia, SC with a comparable population to Charleston paled in comparison with only 33,000 stops within the same five year period.

Charleston County Schools did not fear off any better. From August 2014-December, 2015, 995 student arrests were made; 830 of the students were Black, representing 83.4%. The largest percentage (53.7% totaling 535 arrests) of students arrested was for “Disturbing School/Disorderly Conduct” and the second highest number was “Assault & Battery 2nd or 3rd (17.6%, totaling 175 arrests). The numbers are alarming and often time resulting in students’ suspensions, expulsions, drop-outs and ending up in the Juvenile Justice System.

Whatever happened to dealing with the students in the first group, Disturbing School/Disorderly Conduct, in In-School suspension or some other alternative corrective measure? CAJM does not condone disruptive student behavior but is seeking justifiable solutions to a problem almost as old as molasses but one that was once handled in house. Unjustifiable and exacerbated situations by school officials, more often than not, lead to more defiant and problematic students.

Charleston County School Board adopted a zero tolerance policy some years ago. It’s almost like saying one size fits all but we know that one size does not fit all. Some things require a more humanistic common sense approach. And, if 830 out of 995 arrests were African American students, there is a serious breach in the way students are disciplined.

It’s time to take a roll call. The Mayors of Charleston and North Charleston were invited along with the respective Chiefs of Police, City of Charleston and North Charleston City Council members and Charleston County School Board members.

Representatives from the City of Charleston were: John Tecklenburg (newly elected Mayor), Keith Waring, James Lewis, Dean Riegel and Rodney Williams, City Councilmembers. No-shows were: Police Chief Gregory G. Mullen; Dudley Gregorie, Peter Shahid, Kathleen Wilson, F. Gary White, Marvin Wagner and Michael Seekings.

Representative from North Charleston was: Mike A. Brown, recently elected to Council. No-shows were: Mayor Keith Summey, Police Chief Eddie Driggers; Virginia Jamison, Sam Hart, Kenny Skipper, Rhonda Jerome, Dorothy Williams, Todd Olds, Bob King and Michael Brown.

Representatives from Charleston County School Board were: Kate Darby, Michael Miller, Rev. Chris Collins, and Rev. Eric Mack. No-shows were: Todd Garrett, Cindy Coats, Tom Ducker, Chris Staubs and Tripp Wiles.

A very special thank you to all elected officials that attended Monday night’s meeting. Your presence attests to your level of commitment to those that elected you to office whether you voted yes or no. Certainly, no one in attendance expected all yeses.

However, progress was made. The meeting signaled the coming together of the most powerful forces in government and its citizens to respond to the excessive number of unlawful stops, detentions and arrests and to restore confidence and faith in the police departments and school system. The meeting is a step in the right direction for change. It means that some elected officials understand the meaning of Micah 6:8.

It is important to note that absence with an excuse is acceptable but absence without one spits in the face of justice. It’s a good thing justice is blindfolded. See y’all no excuse and no-shows at the polls. Is “NO” your final answer?

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