The purpose of a city should be to provide for the people inside its borders. When it comes to Black, Brown and other marginalized folks in Charleston, this has never been the case. Now is the time to ask ourselves if we should continue to plead for safety from a system that keeps telling us it will not protect us, or if we should fight to take the power out of its hands.
According to members of the Eastside Community, at least 10 people were injured in a shooting on the night of Monday, May 30, 2022. In the days that have followed, there has been a lot of bad faith speechmaking and narrative shifting from the City of Charleston and the Charleston Police Department (CPD). Mayor Tecklenburg placed an emphasis on the danger that the cops faced, completely overshadowing the impact this incident had on the lives of community members. His remarks should not be read as a slip of the tongue, rather a reminder of where Black people actually stand when it comes to the priorities of the local government.
You can’t separate the violence displayed in the Black community from the violence inflicted on the Black community via CPD and the city. If we are going to talk about violence, then we have to be willing to start by talking about it at the root. Violence is not just when Black youth turn guns toward each other, it’s all the things that lead up to that. Black people’s relationship to Charleston was born and bred from violence, so it should not be surprising that violence continues today.
Many of us know gentrification, the forced removal of people from their communities, first hand. But gentrification is a polite term being used to describe the violent expulsion of Black people from a city built by Black hands. “Ethnic cleansing” is a more realistic term. A city where more than 40% of all African people trafficked to the United States first arrived, has become a place where Black people virtually cannot afford to live. After decades of the city working hand in hand with real estate developers, from the Sea Islands to America Street, Black people have been defunded, threatened and bought off of the land they were forced to cultivate for centuries as enslaved laborers. You cannot violently displace communities while simultaneously building luxury and tourism in the same place and not expect those contradictions to boil over.
Whenever Lowcountry officials and leadership describe intracommunal violence taking place, like the recent shootings, they always point back to “youth,” “drug” or “gang violence.” But this “leadership” has been completely unable to offer an analysis of what that “gang violence” is about or where it comes from. Violence is baked into every aspect of Black life. 42% percent of Black children under age 18 are living below the poverty line in Charleston, compared to 11% of white children, according to the Avery Research Center report on racial disparities. Black people in Charleston are dealing with a situation where the city is squeezing them out of every corner. At their core, gang wars are always turf wars. They are wars over money as a means of survival. They are wars for resources. The masses of Black people in Charleston have no turf, they have very limited means of survival and they have almost no resources.
The only way the local government knows how to solve real problems that impact real people is by throwing money at the occupying force in Black and Brown communities. 37-80 million dollars annually of Charleston County, the City of Charleston and North Charleston’s budgets go directly to law enforcement. According to the Building a Safe and Just Charleston report, police spend the majority of their resources arresting people for minor incidents which do not affect public safety, but do lead to mass criminalization and incarceration of Black, Brown and disabled people at a huge cost to taxpayers.
Black and Brown people are being starved, robbed of decent education, forced into dead end employment and substandard housing and pushed out of the City of Charleston into areas like North Charleston, which now retains the highest concentration of Black and Latin American people in Charleston County and is in full pivot toward becoming a police state.
The North Charleston Police Department has proposed a plan (with little to know input from the community) for a 24/7 real-time surveillance center that will monitor, in its own words, "every inch" of the city to supposedly reduce and solve crime. The so-called Joint Operations Center will include the purchase of 745 surveillance cameras, 34 automatic license plate readers, a data dashboard for compiling surveillance feeds from privately and publicly owned cameras, and walls of video monitors according to a petition being circulated in opposition to the move. Consider how this kind of surveillance will impact undocumented communities who already live in a state of fear in a city that does not even provide translation of its official communications that impact their health, well-being and livelihood. No one should be fooled into thinking that this Joint Operations Center (or any police funding) has anything to do with protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. This move is about protecting the property and interests of the rich and powerful in a city where the divide between the rich and the poor has reached a breaking point. If this proposal is allowed to move forward the result will be overpolicing and racial profiling of Black, Brown and other marginalized groups, not safety.
Violence is at the core of the existence of the United States (as of the writing on this statement, we’ve had more mass shootings than days so far in 2022) and as such, violence is at the core of the existence of Charleston. That said, as oppressed nations within its borders, violence in Black and Brown communities should not be surprising to anyone. What should be surprising is that we continue to look to those responsible for creating the conditions for the violence for solutions to solving it.
Community control, through the creation of a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), puts the power back into the people’s hands. Once the decision making power behind police hiring, firing, and most importantly budgets, is substantively in the hands of the people, we will have the power to begin building the kind of resources and institutions we need to address the levels of violent American indoctrination that continues to plague us. Our communities are terrified, traumatized and in need of deep healing and restoration. Beginning with taking control of the institution of policing, we must build a movement that will ultimately take back control of everything in our communities, including schools and hospitals, in a way that makes those institutions work for us, not developers, not elected officials and certainly not cops.