By Barney Blakeney
I got the call while writing on deadline. My mind was on the story I was writing so it took a minute to understand what the caller was talking about. The mind works a lot faster than the mouth. A lot of times people speak with half sentences as their mind moves from one thought to another. Verbalization often doesn’t keep up. So I’m listening to this guy talk about Charleston Interim Police Chief Jerome Taylor’s role in the tragic August 24 shooting death of Executive Chef Anthony Whiddon, but I wasn’t getting a clear understanding of what he was trying to tell me. After a few minutes I realized he was concerned that Taylor’s role as police commander as that situation unfolded had not been emphasized.
First let me say Whiddon’s death was an indescribable tragedy. A guy gets up in the morning, kisses the wife and kids before going off to work as a cook in a restaurant and gets killed! How does that happen? Just three days earlier two ladies working at a bank in Conway were killed just as unexpectedly. In both incidents the perpetrators were ex-offenders recently released from prison. Neither should have had a gun. Beyond that I keep asking myself where are we as a community which has taught a generation of people that gun violence is a way to deal with problems.
The caller was telling me that he felt Whiddon’s death had become politicized. The guy was saying that poor guy was killed inexplicably and immediately following, elected officials went on camera talking about workplace violence.
As the caller continued I got a more clear understanding of his concerns. The guy didn’t call names, but it was clear he was talking about the August 28 joint press conference held by Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon and S.C. House Rep. Wendell Gilliard to announce workplace violence. Since then Charleston Police Department announced it also will be conducting training sessions on workplace violence.
Again, Whiddon’s murder was tragic. That man had a young family, people who loved him. His alleged killer also has a family and people who love him. Turns out I know some of the alleged perp’s relatives. A lot of people were hurt by that incident. Too bad it’s being perceived, at least by that one guy, as a photo-op and political talking point. I’m not saying that’s what people are trying to do. Workplace violence probably is a lot more common than most of us think. It’s important that we address it. But every murder is a tragedy.
I just read a compelling daily newspaper story about 71-year-old robbery victim, Henry Brown, who was killed August 15 as three young guys tried to steal his car. You talk about a sad story. The guy was a grandfather looking forward to retirement and playing with his grandkids. I imagine he was a regular guy who worked hard to make a comfortable life for his family. According to reports, he didn’t even come off violent as the kids who had robbed him before came back for his car. A lot of guys would have come out blazing!
There have been 25 homicides in North Charleston so far this year. Seven of them have been committed in the adjacent Dorchester Waylyn/Dorchester Terrace communities. I think that’s something we need to be focused on. How do we have seven murders within a two-mile radius and no one holds a press conference to address it? Sure Whiddon’s murder was a tragedy, but so were those seven other murders.
There are a lot of moving parts to the Whiddon murder. The caller said the perpetrator was hired through a program for ex-offenders. He was concerned that the wrong publicity might jeopardize that program preventing countless other young people in need of another chance from accessing such opportunities. And he was concerned about a criminal justice system that reinforces criminal behavior more than it rehabilitates criminals. Whiddon’s alleged killer spent his entire adult life behind bars for another horrendous crime that left a local minister crippled. Some might say the system’s failure during those years contributed to Whiddon’s death.
I don’t have all the answers, but there’s got to be a better way. Failures in our educational system keep coming back to bite us in the butt. What are we going to do – arm all cooks and waiters, post armed guards in restaurants, train kitchen staff in the art of duck and cover? At the end of the day, this has to be about more than our fear.
That call made me think about a lot of stuff, not the least of which was how Charleston police and Interim Chief Jerome Taylor handled the incident. The caller said had Taylor botched the job, he would have gotten a lot more press.
I asked the 44-year veteran cop about the incident. It was all about training, he said. Taylor, who has served the department as Commander of Operations Bureau, Commander Special Operations Bureau, Commander of Central Investigations Division, Commander Uniform Patrol, Deputy Bureau Commander Administrative Services Bureau and SWAT Team Commander, praised his officers and their training. A man of few words, Taylor said his greatest regret was being unable to save Whiddon’s life.