By Barney Blakeney
The October 10 murder of a man whose body was found in front of apartments on Redwood Street in the Chicora Cherokee neighborhood marked North Charleston’s 32nd homicide in 2017. The city had 32 homicides in all of 2016. Despite the efforts of several organizations, the number of homicides in the city this year seems certain to surpass that of 2016.
In 2015 North Charleston resident and Charleston County Council representative Henry Darby co-founded the United Black Men of Charleston County. He asked Black men to come together to impact the number of homicides being committed in the Black community that take the lives of young Black men both as victims and perpetrators. Of the 58 homicides committed in Charleston County last year 39 of the victims were black males.
An immediate strategy of the UBMCC was to confront crime head-on. The men repeatedly walked through the Dorchester Waylyn community where in addition to the adjacent Dorchester Terrace community some seven homicides have been committed this year. Darby said that strategy has had some success. Additionally the group has held community meetings and engaged strategies to increase employment among young black males as an alternative to criminal activity.
This year the group expanded its strategies. Members met with Charleston County School District Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait and her administrative team to propose that gun violence prevention and intervention be offered as part of the district’s curriculum. Darby said while reducing violent crime among older Black males is proving difficult, reaching a younger generation earlier may produce better results. Still the question of why the rate of violent crime among older Black males is so high must be answered. Black churches and fraternal organizations must work harder to find that answer, he said.
In July churches in the Liberty Hill community answered that challenge. By July there had been 21 homicides in North Charleston – 18 black male victims, one black female victim and two white female victims. Abyssinia Baptist Church, Charity Missionary Baptist Church, Little Bethel Pentecostal Church, Royal Missionary Baptist Church and St. Peters AME Church came together to form the Liberty Hill Community Churches Coalition. July 22, the coalition will held its first event, a fish fry and day of fun and activities for residents and their friends.
Coalition spokesman Rev. Edward Simmons in July said families are grieving and in pain. And while a fish fry won’t stop the violence, it can bring people together, help them get to know each other and help them gain more respect for each other. The community event would be a time to show how everyone in the neighborhood is hurting from the violence and to let victims know they are not alone.
“Our main focus is to let people know we’re all family and that family doesn’t hurt one another. Family respects one another, and if one family is hurting, we’re all hurting. We want to bring unity and peace to our community. We’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.
Upon realizing the number of homicides in the city to date, Simmons Monday said obviously more initiatives have to be initiated to reduce gun violence. Among them increased mentoring for young children and efforts to reduce the number of guns on the street. Most importantly, a dialogue must be established with young Black males, he said.
“It’s all about economics,” Simmons said. “They need jobs and they need to know how to get home. I have a 20-year-old son and I tell him no matter what happens out there, I need him to get home! Where do we go from here? We have to stop playing the blame game. Everybody needs to be at the table including women. We have to begin to talk about those subjects nobody’s touching.”