September 20, 2017. The Post and Courier.
Staking a public claim to a yearlong assessment of North Charleston police, local civil rights advocates demanded the review’s release, despite the federal government’s decision to abandon the effort.
Their call came days after the Department of Justice announced an overhaul of the Collaborative Reform Initiative at the agency’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, essentially excising the reform component.
The program’s end shouldn’t stop federal officials from releasing a document that could highlight shortcomings of the North Charleston Police Department and aid local reformers’ mission to bring lasting change, the advocates argued.
“Our tax dollars are what allow the Department of Justice to exist, and therefore, that report about our city’s Police Department is rightfully our property,” said the Rev. Clinton Brantley, pastor at St. Matthew Baptist Church and member of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry. “We will not be discouraged. Our community is awake and active, so our fight will not stop now.”
Brantley and others gathered Wednesday morning for a news conference that touted a scheduled forum Thursday night for residents to discuss the development and air their own ideas. That event will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Alfred Williams Community Life Center, 4441 Durant Ave.
Asked Wednesday whether the Justice Department could answer the advocates’ calls for the report, COPS office spokeswoman Shannon Long said only that the unit’s fundamental goal of helping local police remains unchanged.
“But consistent with the (attorney general’s) commitment to local accountability and local control,” she said in a statement, “we will not be conducting wide-ranging assessments and progress reports that have too often gone far beyond the original scope of what the department has asked for.”
The police have come under heavy scrutiny since a video showed patrolman Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott, a black man. The officer had stopped Scott’s car in April 2015 for a broken brake light. The killing came after years of complaints from residents who said police tactics and frequent traffic stops had unfairly targeted poor and predominately black neighborhoods.
Under broad pressure, city officials sought the COPS assessment that was slated to wrap up this summer with a report listing recommended changes. But with the program’s demise, that document has yet to see the light of day.
“I find a certain irony in all of this,” Thomas Dixon, a North Charleston community advocate who has mounted a candidacy for mayor, told reporters. “Every time the truth is set to come to the forefront, it gets crushed to the ground.”
Earlier in the week, Mayor Keith Summey also expressed disappointment that the Justice Department had retreated from its commitment.
“The city has complied in every respect with … what we said we would do,” he told City Council members Tuesday. “It’s a whole different approach by the federal government.”
He said the police and city officials would continue working with a citizens advisory commission that was formed over the past year to make its own suggestions.
But advocates such as Louis Smith on Wednesday reiterated doubt of such measures’ effectiveness without involvement of an outside agency “with teeth.”
“We need the program to release that report now,” Smith said. “We need closure.”
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