[Marxism] North Charleston cops: a trail of harassment, racial profiling and brutality
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 10 07:27:31 MDT 2015
NY Times, Apr. 10 2015
South Carolina Police Shooting Seen as Crime Strategy Gone Awry
By ALAN BLINDER and MANNY FERNANDEZ
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — It was after dark about five years ago, on a
downtrodden strip of this city, when Alicia Delesline stopped trusting
the police in the place where she had lived her entire life.
Ms. Delesline, 48, was walking to a store when she did something
pedestrians do all the time: She suddenly changed her mind, and turned
around to go elsewhere. Her movement caught the attention of a police
officer, who stopped her and accused her of changing directions because
she had seen the authorities farther ahead.
“They just rolled up and bothered me for no reason and searched me,” she
said Thursday. “They serve and protect when they feel like serving and
protecting. But when they feel like harassing, they do that.”
Ms. Delesline, who is black, is but one person in this city of 104,000
who has experienced the effects of a police campaign that began as an
effort to rid North Charleston of its label as one of the country’s most
dangerous cities in 2007.
The aggressive tactics by North Charleston’s mostly white police force,
including frequent stops of drivers and pedestrians for minor violations
and an increased police presence in high-crime, mostly black areas, have
led to a decrease in violent crime.
But to many here, the strategy came at a high cost and provides a
disturbing context to the police shooting here last weekend that has set
off outrage throughout South Carolina and across the country. A white
police officer was shown on a bystander’s video shooting and killing an
unarmed black man after he fled from a traffic stop for a broken
taillight on Saturday. The man, Walter L. Scott, 50, was shot in the
back by the officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, who has been charged with
murder and whose dismissal was announced by city officials on Wednesday.
Aside from the furor over Mr. Scott’s death, North Charleston has been
something of a window onto many of the policing issues playing out
It saw an era of stepped-up enforcement under former Police Chief Jon R.
Zumalt, and an effort to improve relations between the police and
residents under the current chief, Eddie Driggers. And it has been a
reminder of how much improving policing is a matter of personal
decisions, rather than just policies, as the victim’s brother
experienced at the crime scene Saturday in a moment of compassion from
Black residents, merchants and former residents said police officers
have been harassing and racially profiling African-Americans in North
Charleston for years, though some of their reports could not be
independently verified. They accused officers of assaulting them with
Taser stun guns for no reason and of using aggressive tactics after
stopping them or pulling them over for minor offenses. Rhonda Smith, who
runs a bail bonds agency, spoke of twice writing bonds for black
defendants arrested for not having horns on their bicycles.
City officials deny allegations of widespread police misconduct and
racial profiling, and they have defended their efforts to lower crime.
Mr. Zumalt, who retired in 2013 after leading the police force for more
than a decade, drew harsh criticism from some black residents. But in a
letter to the mayor, he described his work as a success.
“I leave you with a proud and professional police agency that has
reduced crime and gained the trust and respect of the people that live
and work in your city,” Mr. Zumalt wrote.
A few months before Mr. Zumalt announced his retirement in 2012, Mayor
R. Keith Summey told Charleston’s Post & Courier newspaper that it made
sense for the police to focus on black communities, because 83 percent
of all people arrested were black. “When you look at that, where do you
put your major patrols?” Mr. Summey was quoted saying. “The majority
doesn’t feel picked on. The majority feels safer.”
And unlike Ferguson, Mo., where a scathing Justice Department report
said the police and local courts used the justice system as a way to
raise revenue, North Charleston was not focused on gaining more money
from fines, records indicate.
Still, at a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Summey, mayor for more
than 20 years, said city officials would begin “looking for ways to
develop a closer working relationship with the individual communities.”
City records show that Mr. Slager, who joined the Police Department in
2010, was the subject of a complaint over use of force in September
2013. In that episode, according to city records, Mr. Slager was
investigating a burglary when he used his Taser device to stun a man who
the authorities said did not comply with directions. Mr. Slager was
cleared of wrongdoing. Police officials upheld a complaint against Mr.
Slager this year, after a woman said he refused to write a report in a
Located just up Interstate 26 from Charleston, a haven of tourism and
commerce along the South Carolina coast, North Charleston is a city of
competing identities. Some neighborhoods are suburban sanctuaries filled
with palmetto trees, late-model cars and spotless restaurants. Others
are deeply impoverished, where blocks are dominated by pawn shops and
The poverty rate here — more than 23 percent — is 5.3 percentage points
higher than the rate statewide. But much of the talk here is about the
crime and the policing strategies intended to combat it.
Rashard Brown, 30, said he had been pulled over twice in less than two
months, including one instance when an officer trailed him for about
three miles. “If I broke down on the side of the road with a flat tire,
he’d ride right past like he didn’t even see me,” he said. “But if I
look like I’m riding clean and I’ve got a lot of money, next thing you
know you’ve pulled me over and you stick your head in the car, smell and
see what’s going on and see if you see anything.”
Doris Brown, who lives in Charleston but owns a hair salon in North
Charleston, said she, too, was pulled over for a broken taillight but
believed she may have been stopped because she was a black woman driving
a luxury car. “After I left, my friend went behind and there was nothing
wrong with my taillight,” she said. “Everything was working with my car,
so I felt as though I was being profiled.”
A police spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Residents said they are reluctant to file formal complaints, although
the number of complaints soared after the police crackdown began. In
2008, Brian Knite Yates, an Army sergeant who is black, was driving to
his house to pick up his wife and ill daughter when he was pulled over
by a white officer.
When Mr. Yates told the officer he did not have his driver’s license
with him, the officer asked him to step out of the vehicle and then
twisted his arm and told him he was under arrest, according to a lawsuit
Mr. Yates filed against the city and the police. Mr. Yates claimed in
court documents the officer used a Taser gun on him three times,
although Mr. Yates did not put up a struggle. The case is likely to go
to trial in federal court within months.
Some residents have credited Chief Driggers with helping to calm
tensions, even as others angrily demanded answers from him at a news
conference on Wednesday. An Episcopal deacon, Chief Driggers once served
as the department’s chaplain.
After the shooting on Saturday, Mr. Scott’s older brother, Anthony
Scott, 52, went to the crime scene. He stood taking pictures of his
brother’s covered body with his phone when police officers and
detectives approached. Three of them surrounded him, telling him to turn
over his phone, he said.
“So, are you going to kill me, too, now?” Mr. Scott said he asked them.
He eventually handed them his phone. Hours later, Chief Driggers
arrived, returned Mr. Scott’s phone and offered his condolences.
“The chief was very kind, very kind,” Mr. Scott said. “He was very
gentlemanly, very different from the way everyone else was acting.
Everyone else — it was eerie how they were acting. They were cocky.”
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