Fight For Racially Biased Audit Raises Racial Tensions

By Barney Blakeney

The fight to get a biased based police audit of the Charleston Police Department intensified this week. At press time Charleston Councilman James Lewis was set to present at Tuesday’s council meeting a resolution to hire a consulting firm to conduct a biased-based audit of the Charleston Police Department. Lewis said he’s proposing the resolution in response to requests from the Charleston Area Justice Ministry’s call for an audit of the department.

James Lewis

At a Monday press conference Charleston Area Justice Ministry members said, “The Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) calls on Mayor Tecklenburg and all members of the Charleston City Council to vote “yes” on Councilmember James Lewis’ resolution. In April, all African-American Charleston city councilmembers attended CAJM’s Nehemiah Action Assembly. During that assembly, the community showed councilmembers that Novak consulting does not have the necessary experience to conduct the police audit. Councilmembers James Lewis, Keith Waring, Robert Mitchell and Dudley Gregorie responded with overwhelming support for the community’s call for a new Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire a firm with the necessary experience in auditing police departments for racial bias.

“African-Americans continue to be twice as likely to be stopped by the Charleston Police Department as whites. Councilman Lewis responded to the community’s call for a new RFP through his submission of a resolution. Last week Mayor Tecklenburg proposed what he referred to as a “compromise” without engaging with the very community calling for the police audit. Rev. Nelson B. Rivers asked ‘How can it be a compromise if you’re only talking to yourself?

“The Mayor’s ‘compromise’ disregards Councilmember Lewis’ resolution and subverts the procurement process the city has in place to ensure a fair and competitive bidding process to identify the best qualified firm. The Mayor’s “compromise” continues a long Charleston tradition of offering our black community members less than what they ask for and deserve. At the Charleston Forum (an event held in observance of the anniversary of the Emanuel AME Church massacre) last Friday, the Mayor spoke of unity and love for our black neighbors. Suzanne Hardie, CAJM Team Leader and member of the Unitarian Church in Charleston stated, ‘The Charleston narrative of unity must be more than words easily spoken, it must be backed up by strong and meaningful action.’ Therefore, we call on Mayor Tecklenburg and all of Charleston City Council to support Councilman Lewis’s recommendation for a new Request for Proposal.

Prior to Tuesday’s council meeting, Charleston spokesman John O’Toole issued this statement, “On February 28, 2017, Charleston City Council approved a contract to hire The Novak Consulting Group to perform a performance audit of all areas of city government, including a specific “bias-based policing” audit of the Charleston Police Department. Bias-based policing audits have become a standard tool in recent years to help police departments determine whether their existing practices and procedures are fair and impartial to all citizens in their area, and to help find strategies to remedy any systemic problems that might be found.

“The bias-based policing audit of the CPD is currently set to begin later this year.

 Before entering the council meeting Tuesday, Lewis said the issue has been subverted into a test of wills with racial overtones that splits council. “I don’t know how this will come out,” he said, “We’re talking about racial healing since the Emanuel tragedy, so I don’t know why we’re skating around this conversation. I have nothing against the police chief or his department. But if we have problems, we should find out about them and go to work on them.”

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