By Barney Blakeney
A coalition formed since the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) announced it will not release its report on its assessment of the North Charleston Police Department initiated last year, is calling for community engagement to force the federal agency to produce the document.
A coalition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (NAACPLDF), the North Charleston Branch NAACP, The Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Community Resource Center last week called on citizens to contact local, state and federal elected officials asking them to push for release of the COPS report.
At a Wednesday press conference North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryant said citizens asked for a comprehensive review of the city’s police department that could impose reforms. The COPS assessment was offered in its stead. Now without the COPS report, there may be no accountability, he said.
Pastor Thomas Dixon, co-founder of The Coalition (People United To Take Back Our Community), said the need for reform in the North Charleston Police Department has been ongoing for decades and must be addressed. The pushback against making reforms didn’t start with the COPS office at the justice department, he said, it began with a municipal administration that chose to avoid making them.
He pointed to the 2004 police shooting death of Asberry Wylder as one incident in a long string of incidents that included the 2015 police shooting death of Walter Scott. The North Charleston police Department has a history of operating without a moral compass, he said. Dixon and Bryant agreed the absence of the COPS report will not stop efforts to impose police reform.
CAJM’s Rev. Clinton Brantley said the community is awake and active. The fight will not stop, he said. S.C. ACLU Executive Director Shaundra Scott said citizens can have an influence if they act in large numbers. The North Charleston native said she has witnessed the discrimination practiced by the city’s police all her life. “It has to stop,” she said.
At the September 21 community action meeting the coalition took questions from the diverse group of some 80 attendees before breaking into smaller work groups that offered instructions on action steps and how to contact elected officials. That the community responded to the call for action indicates citizens still are committee to reform, said LDF Deputy Director of Policy and Senior Counsel Monique L. Dixon.
Citizens must continue lobbying their elected officials, Dixon said. The coalition is putting together information to help them do that, she said. In the meantime, the NAACP LDF is exploring options to mount legal mechanisms to get the report.