By Barney Blakeney
Less than 48 hours after North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey’s June 29 “If you see something, say something” public plea for citizens’ assistance in quelling the rising number of homicides in the city, another victim was murdered. As of Tuesday the city’s experienced 22 homicides in 2017. Last year North Charleston ranked as the nation’s leading city for murders per capita 1,000 populations. The city of about 90,000 people finished the year with 32 homicides.
As the death toll rises, Summey said his police have taken 15 percent more guns off the streets so far this year than they did by this same time last year. Twenty-five percent of those guns were reported stolen. Still the death toll is more than twice that as the same time last year.
Almost all the victims of the city’s gun violence are young Black males. Their average age is below 25. The violence destroys both families, those of the victims and their perpetrators, Summey said. He asked family members to provide information that may lead to arrests versus to deaths. It’s the entire community’s responsibility, he said.
Charleston police Deputy Chief Jerome Taylor, a native of North Charleston’s Liberty Hill community, said the community can’t arrest its way out of the plague of gun violence. Guns are a convenient tool for committing violence, but at the root of the violence are other causes. You have to ask why people hurt other people. It’s a complex problem, he said.
“The guys being killed are babies. And we don’t see remorse from the guys and girls doing the killing. It’s not black or white, it’s universal. It’s an issue that hurts, but it will take candid discussions. I don’t know the answers. I know what’s not working, but I won’t say what can’t work.
“As a law enforcement officer I’m willing to do whatever I can. But law enforcement officers are guardians. We have a specific role. We all have a responsibility. These individuals aren’t just numbers. They’re somebody’s child, somebody’s brother, somebody’s dad. That kind of grief affects families for generations. We think about the person and ask ‘what if he had lived?” However there must be a game plan to successfully engage the rising tide of homicides, Taylor said. Our kids need positive messages, he added.
Retired Charleston police Major Ronald Hamilton agrees the community has to take a comprehensive approach to reducing violent crime. Foremost in the arsenal against violent crime are education and employment, he said. Much of the violent crime we see is rooted in illegal drug activities which have replaced youth employment opportunities. Those illegal activities often result in gun related crimes. He said North Charleston police leadership must refocus on community relations more than arrests. Showing residents how they can help reduce crime works better than making speeches then leaving, he said.