By Barney Blakeney
As Charleston police investigated the city’s eighth homicide so far in 2018, for the first time in recent years Charleston rivals North Charleston in the number of homicides committed. There have been 10 homicides in North Charleston this year. There were 35 homicides in North Charleston in 2017 compared to six in Charleston. Of the 25 homicides committed this year in Charleston County, 18 have been committed in the two cities.
Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds, who assumed the position in April, said there’s no rationale for the rash of murders – four since July 15 – which are not related. All the murders except the most recent, July 31, have been solved. So many people are carrying guns, Reynolds exclaimed. Guns are too accessible, he said. “That’s something we have to pay attention to,” Reynolds said.
And he added that the killings aren’t random. In the July 15 incident at a West Ashley apartment complex, two teens (15 and 17) were gunned down after a dispute. In most of the city’s homicides this year, the victims knew their killers. In several of the incidents, the victims and perpetrators were socializing together when the incidents occurred. Common factors were drugs, alcohol or a combination of the two, Reynolds said.
The presence of police also had little effect in the crimes, Reynolds explained. Police had saturated the Gadsden Green housing complex since homicides earlier this year, but that was no deterrent to a homicide that followed a heated dispute as two men sat on a porch. Officers within walking distance arrived at the scene a few minutes after the shooting, Reynolds noted.
Plugging the dam that leads to the flood of homicides in the city isn’t just a question of how much more police must do, but also how much more communities must do, Reynolds said. A lot of the guns used in local crimes are stolen from vehicles, he said. One of the teens murdered in the July 15 incident was killed by a gun stolen from a vehicle at the same complex. An important deterrent is making sure weapons are secured in the owners’ homes, Reynolds said.
Still, guns are fairly easy to get. They can be bought inexpensively on the streets, Reynolds said. So conversations about gun violence and meaningful and sustained engagement must be continual. The problem wasn’t created overnight and won’t be solved overnight, Reynolds said. Solutions will require partnerships among various community institutions, he added. The key to reducing homicides is taking shared ownership of the problem, he said.