By Barney Blakeney
The ink wasn’t dried on the column I’d just filed last week when I got the North Charleston police report of another shooting homicide. My column, in part, was about the city ranked among the nation’s most dangerous also being ranked fifth most prosperous. Talk about contrasts!
Police spokesman Spencer Pryor and I have been having an ongoing conversation about homicides in the city for the past few months. Last week as I left the Yorktown’s hangar deck after the Charleston County Republican Party’s First Congressional District’s primary candidates’ debate, WTMA radio personality Charlie James, who moderated the debate, also opened a conversation about homicides in North Charleston. “What are we going to do about North Charleston,” he asked.
Charlie is a seasoned media professional. He knows the game and is good at it. So when he came to town a few years ago to take the morning drive spot at WTMA, he said he went out with his boss to get the lay of the land. He said he asked his boss where in the area he would be most likely to get killed. The answer was, North Charleston. Statistically, Charlie would be quite safe in North Charleston. As a white male the odds are in his favor. Last year only five of the 52 homicide victims in Charleston County were white males. Only two of those white male victims were killed in North Charleston. The city had 35 homicides last year, more than half the county’s total for 2017.
I was trying to find an office chair when I ran into North Charleston’s seventh homicide crime scene, a shooting incident that blocked the intersection of Dorchester Road and Constitution Avenue in the Waylyn community. The victim was found there in a car after being shot multiple times. Turns out the victim was one of my friend’s grandsons. As far as I know cops have found no motive for the murder.
What are we going to do about North Charleston? North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess has taken to the street with ‘stop the violence’ signs. That’s a symbolic start, and I’m sure Burgess is doing much more behind the scenes. A retired cop last week said North Charleston must think outside the box to impact its homicide rate. Conventional policing won’t get it, he said.
Black folks raised hell about the disproportionate, and discriminatory, traffic stops perpetrated by North Charleston police in the past. But I gotta say this – when the cops were stopping all those Black folks, the murder rate was substantially lower. What does that mean? Don’t ask me. I’m no criminologist. All I know is when North Charleston cops were stoppin’ Black folks indiscriminately, there were fewer murders!
My cop friend had better suggestions. He said Mayor Keith Summey and Burgess together must implement strategies – starting with communities and ending with cops. Illegal drug activity is a common factor in much of the city’s violent crime, my partner said. Control illegal drug trafficking and you’ll control violent crime, he said. There are a number of ways to do that, he added. The city must provide jobs and education, he said.
North Charleston Constituent School District Four is the county’s largest and has its highest Black student enrollment. The district has some 30 schools, including five high schools. The tale of North Charleston’s high schools pretty much tells the tale of all its schools – predominantly white academically elite schools contrasted by predominantly Black academically deficient schools. North Charleston is home to some of the region’s leading and best paying manufacturing companies. Yet Black unemployment consistently reaches 40 percent. My cop friend said reducing crime in North Charleston requires a comprehensive approach incorporating police and municipal sources. With five Blacks on the 10-member city council, North Charleston has the political clout to bring those resources to bear. I don’t think it has the political know-how, however. As a result, the tail seems to be wagging the dog.
As we walked and talked on the Yorktown ramp from the ship to the parking lot I offered to Charlie James, despite that white folks are much less likely to get killed in North Charleston than Black folks – Black males especially – it’s to everybody’s advantage to get a handle on this epidemic.
In May 2016 Barri Shank of Ohio was walking his dogs in the parking lot of a North Charleston hotel as his wife checked in when he was shot and killed. Cops still have not made an arrest in the murder. And I always reflect on 17-year-old Marley Lion, killed June 16, 2012 after stopping to sleep off a buzz in a West Ashley parking lot. More recently, in February a young mother was attacked and beaten as she entered her Johns Island home. After the attack her assailant abducted her four-year-old daughter. The woman’s assailant and daughter later were caught in Alabama.
What are we going to do about North Charleston? As I told Charlie, this thing is bigger than North Charleston and it’s going to require all hands on deck to impact. And as I told Charlie, it ain’t Black or white. This thing’ll come knock on your door no matter your race. Some folks are starting to get that.
The debate between Katie Arrington and Mark Sanford covered a lot of ground – fiscal conservatism, constituent service – but there were no questions asked about prison or police reform. They didn’t discuss gun violence on our streets or substandard public education in our schools. Only after the debate was a question asked that affects all of us where we live – What are we going to do about North Charleston? It’s a question we should ask ourselves as we cast our ballots in the June 12 primary elections. What ARE we going to do about North Charleston?