By Barney Blakeney
Three years after its inception, Rev. Kylon Middleton has taken over the helm of the Charleston Police Illumination Project. He succeeds the project’s initial leader Margaret Seidler.
Middleton, the pastor of Mt. Zion AME Church in Charleston, has been involved with the project sponsored by the Charleston Police Fund since its inception. Former Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen conceived the project after the 2015 massacre of Black worshippers at Emanuel AME Church.
The project’s mission is to further strengthen citizen/police relationships. After a white male gunman slaughtered nine black churchgoers attending Bible study at the historic church, Mullen at that time said he asked himself what could be done to avoid the conflict and violence he’s witnessed across the country as a result of deteriorating relationships between citizens and their police departments. The answer came in the form of the Illumination Project.
At the heart of the project were listening sessions – 33 of them conducted in various communities throughout the city. Nearly 1,000 citizens, including some 300 middle and high school students, participated in those sessions. The session also included members of the department’s command staff and 40 other officers.
Those sessions produced five goals that include developing better understanding between citizens and police officers of different cultures, backgrounds and experiences. Building respectful trusting relationships became another goal in addition to developing training, policies and procedures that improve police/community relationships. And it includes the goal of expanding the community policing concept.
Middleton said the process is ongoing. Recent crimes in the city underscore the need to continue moving forward, he said. In the wake of a double homicide at a West Ashley apartment complex and multiple burglaries nearby, the project’s facilitators are working to bring police and residents together to address common issues relative to the different crimes. Beyond police acting to get to know the people they serve and protect, residents also must act to bridge the gaps between the communities themselves. That’s become the call to action for the Illumination Project in its third year, Middleton said.
Developing leadership academies in respective team police areas is one tool they will employ. The goal is to empower residents to form a frontline not only against crime in their communities, but also to assist police however possible. Hopefully the project can provide a context communities haven’t had before and reach more communities, he said.
Middleton said central to the project’s core mission – facilitating better community/police relations – is the citizens’ advisory council that will be involved in the myriad of departmental aspects.
“With the horrific murders we’ve experienced in recent weeks and the city’s apology for its role in slavery, this is a true opportunity to reconcile, for Charleston to become leaders in a loving and unifying way. We just have to be patient, observant and proactive,” Middleton said.