By Barney Blakeney
Crime underscores the year in review in Charleston County. Most notably, an unprecedented 35 homicides in the City of North Charleston that only was eclipsed by the sentencing of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager for the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott. Charleston County finished the year with some 52 homicides.
As the body count in North Charleston mounted, Walter Scott’s 2015 police shooting death dominated crime news. After dodging conviction on state murder charges, Slager in May pled guilty to federal charges he violated Scott’s civil rights. As of May 30 North Charleston had experienced 22 homicides in 2017. In 2016 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.
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 the death toll rose, Summey said his police by then had taken 15 percent more guns off the streets than they did by the same time in 2016.
Still the death toll was more than twice that as the same time in 2016. Almost all the victims of the city’s gun violence were young Black males. Their average age was below 25. North Charleston communities were challenged to stem the rising tide of homicides. In July, churches in the Liberty Hill community answered that challenge. Homicides in North Charleston had produced 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 were grieving and in pain. And while a fish fry wouldn’t stop the violence, it could bring people together, help them get to know each other and help them gain more respect for each other.
Two-thirds of the county’s homicides were committed in North Charleston. By year end a number of victims representing the other one-third would be killed in the city. While Slager was sentenced to 20 years for killing Scott, perpetrators of homicide in the city dodge long sentences or convictions all together.
Charleston Interim Police Chief Jerome Taylor, a native of North Charleston’s Liberty Hill community, in July said the community can’t arrest its way out of the plague of gun violence. Guns are a convenient tool for committing violence, he said, but at the root of the violence are other causes.
“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. As a law enforcement officer I’m willing to do whatever I can. But law enforcement officers are guardians. We only 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.”
Retired Charleston police Major Ronald Hamilton at the time said 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.