By Barney Blakeney
A component of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston report titled “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015” is a section on Crime and Policing. Succinctly, the report begins saying several local law enforcement agencies have especially egregious records of police misconduct and violence against civilians. It specifically notes the North Charleston and Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.
The report begins noting racial disparities in employment. North Charleston has a population of about 100,000. About 47 percent of its residents are Black. Of the approximately 340 sworn officers in the police Department, 62 are Black. Eighty percent of North Charleston’s police officers are white. And in Charleston County, where about one-third of the population of some 350,000 residents is Black, of the approximately 250 sworn officers with the sheriff’s office about 27 are Black.
Data on racial profiling and excessive use of force span multiple years and reflects a police culture that disproportionately harms the Black community in North Charleston, the report said. The shooting death of Walter Scott at the hands of North Charleston police should not be perceived as an isolated incident, but rather recognized as an outcome of a policing culture resulting from decades of police violence and unlawful policing practices, it continued.
The report noted Black residents had a disproportionately higher share of citizen complaints against NCPD officers (60 percent) compared to their population of 47 percent. Black residents filed nearly twice as many complaints against police officers as their white counterparts. But complaints filed against officers by Black residents were sustained only 31 percent of the time versus 50 percent of complaints filed by whites which were sustained. In 2014 Blacks were jailed almost three and one-half times as often as whites. Though the county’s Black population in 2014 was 28 percent, 65 percent of the county’s jail population was Black.
Last week after former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager was sentenced to 20 years for the 2015 murder of Walter Scott, Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., issued the following statement: “Convictions of law enforcement officers who violate the civil rights of people of color are unforgivably few and far between – even in cases as egregious as this one.
“Despite a video that showed that Walter Scott was shot in the back as he ran from law enforcement, it took a federal prosecution to hold Officer Slager accountable after his state prosecution ended in a mistrial.
“Officers rarely receive any prison sentence at all for their crimes, and while Officer Slager is receiving what some may see as a strong sentence, we know that no punishment can repair the hole left in the lives of his loved ones. The fact is that Walter Scott should be alive today.
“Individual accountability, however, is only one aspect of the changes that are needed to prevent killings like that of Walter Scott. The North Charleston Police Department, like other law enforcement agencies around the country, must adopt systemic reforms. We will continue pushing for the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office to release its assessment of the NCPD, in addition to pursuing substantive reforms by working with local officials and residents. The DOJ has refused to release that assessment despite calls from the community and U.S. Senator and North Charleston native Tim Scott (R)-SC) for its release. Officer Slager’s conviction and sentence are only first steps. The process of building a relationship rooted in mutual trust between North Charleston residents and their police department cannot begin in earnest until meaningful changes are put in place to ensure unbiased and accountable policing policies and practices.”