By Barney Blakeney
Just as 2018 in Charleston County was ending with an apparent decline in the number of homicides committed compared to the previous year, a week-long spike in shootings and murders threatened that perception.
The week prior to the Christmas holiday local authorities reported homicide numbers that insured a decline from the total homicides committed in 2017. North Charleston in 2017 reported 35 homicides. December 20 the city had experienced only 20 murders. But by Monday, New Year’s Eve there had been another four homicides committed in the city bringing the total to 24. Three days earlier Charleston County Coroner’s Office reported 49 homicides recorded in 2018, but ongoing death investigations produced an uncertain total (hovering between 52 and 53) by 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve. The City of Charleston which experienced several shootings before reaching the end of the year still had 10 homicides by New Year’s Eve.
North Charleston normally is the site for about one-third of the county’s homicides. Shootings there in the past week offer an ominous potential for 2019. The transition from 2016 to 2017 two years ago produced alarming similarities. Forty-five minutes into the New Year, the first murder of 2017 in North Charleston was committed on Dorchester Road. Two days earlier on Dec. 30 the city’s last murder of 2016 was committed on Iris Street. The city finished 2016 with 32 homicides, the most in two decades until 2017’s 35 homicides.
In January North Charleston native Reggie Burgess was named the city’s ninth police chief. Homegrown in North Charleston, the city’s first Black police chief promised to work as a change agent. He identified several areas on which to focus – 1) developing a five-year strategic plan, 2) reducing violent crime, 3) train, recruit and retain good officers and 4) building better community relations.
As an example of that commitment he vowed to walk through communities where homicides occur in recognition of the victims. He once was asked who will stand for the victims of homicide, 35 in North Charleston in 2017. Burgess’ response was that he would stand for them. He’s since conspicuously walked through the areas where subsequent homicides have occurred. That commitment may be tested in 2019 where easily half the county’s homicides occurred in 2018.