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Murder and Politics Dominated Local Headlines In 2016
12/28/2016 5:17:20 PM

Hundreds gathered in downtown Charleston to voice their opposition of police brutality and promote social change at the July 13 Black Lives Matter Rally at Marion Square. Photo by Tolbert Smalls, Jr.
By Barney Blakeney

There were a number of big stories in 2016, but the pending trials of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who was accused of murder after killing an unarmed and fleeing Walter Scott in the back and Dylann Roof, the admitted shooter in the murder of nine victims at Emanuel AME Church, captured the focus of the community. Although the local community experienced a myriad of news events in 2016, two subjects dominated headlines – crime and politics.

The Dylann Roof/Michael Slager trials were slated to start just a week apart in November, but continued to narrow the focus of the media on them as Michael Slager was released on bond in January. Dylann Roof would remain in jail until his trial began in November. In August he was assaulted by another inmate while being escorted to the shower.

Even as news headlines highlighted the unexpected changes in leadership at Mother Emanuel - by June Rev. Betty Deas who relieved Rev. Norvel Goff as interim pastor after Roof murdered Rev. Clementa Pinckney would be reassigned after serving only fiver months – murder remained a central theme in local news headlines.

By May 30 there had been 14 homicides in North Charleston. There only were 25 homicides committed in the city in 2015. By Christmas 29 homicides have been committed in North Charleston alone pointing to a record-setting year for homicides in the county.

And as headlines of crimes past and continuing captured media attention the politics of pending elections wedged itself into the public’s view. Local and national primary elections in January set the stage for political battles that would play out through November. Several races between the presidential elections and local elections became headline news.

Donald Trump easily won the South Carolina Republican primary as did Hillary Clinton who won the Democratic primary election. And as political neophyte Pastor Thomas Dixon won the Democratic nomination challenging Republican incumbent Tim Scott, first term state senator Marlon Kimpson won his primary election against a reinvigorated Robert Ford who two years ago resigned the seat amid controversial ethics violations. The win gave Kimpson all but certain assurance to win his first full term in the seat.

The June one-year anniversary of the Emanuel AME murders stopped the presses but only briefly as local residents wrestled with the revelation of budget shortfalls that sent Charleston County School District’s administration into a tailspin as Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait shuffled students and supervisors. The shuffling resulted in an unprecedented walkout by the county school board’s three black members. They returned weeks later at the next regularly scheduled meeting.

Crime again would replace politics to lead headlines as murders in the county mounted. By November 8 when the general election left Donald Trump as president-elect there had been 29 homicides in North Charleston and 50 countywide. Also in November the two most recognizable murderers in the local community, Dylann Roof and Michael Slager, would go to trial. Slager’s month-long trial ended in a hung jury. Slager was convicted of all nine murders at Emanuel.

Undaunted however, politics stubbornly seems to rule headlines as the Republicans’ third highest ranking legislator began a fall from power with the indictment of Daniel Island Rep. Jim Merrill in early December.

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