Mullen Says New Police Portal Will Provide Timely Data on Crime

Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen told Beyond Catfish Row that his department will begin posting up-to-date data about crime, traffic stops, contacts, use of force and other police activities within two months.

Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen at Listening Session of Illumination Project.

Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen at Listening Session of Illumination Project.

Mullen said his department has “already connected” with the White House-created Police Data Initiative to make all such data available to the public on a new portal “almost in real time.”

The move is the first step by the Charleston Police Department in developing a robust website on its activities to replace the current site, which consists of brief quarterly summaries of police activities. Local police departments around the nation are moving in this direction.

One of the most detailed and user-friendly local sites is the one operated by the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department, which allows users to create their own neighborhood activity map by type of felony and other crime and compare it to other neighborhoods.

Mullen told Beyond Catfish Row that the new portal will “allow citizens and researchers the ability to review and capture data that can be pulled in raw form and sliced and diced in many different ways.  We are already sampling our system and I have a meeting next week with the team to review the initial process.  I anticipate that we will begin posting information on this portal in 45-60 days.”

The chief also said the Charleston Illumination Project’s technology committee will, by December, begin research, including looking at software solutions, “that will allow the community to have better access and awareness about, crime and police activity.  It is my plan to have this group meet with me in October, get their directions, and begin their process.   The goal is to have this presented in June 2017 for inclusion in our 2018 [Police Department] budget.”

The initiatives that Mullen described to Beyond Catfish Row are not part of the 10 strategies that the Illumination Project singled out as priorities for action in 2016 in its presentation to the Mayor and City Council at a Council meeting on Tuesday. But they look like a promising start toward creation of an interactive website that the public can use to see what crime is happening neighborhood to neighborhood.

The Police Data Initiative with which the Charleston’s Police Department is consulting grew out of the White House’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, whose overall aim is to promote a model of local police as “guardians” of the community, not as “warriors.”  The Illumination Project's revised list of its 86 citizen and police strategies integrates the “Guardian Mindset concept” in the 10 strategies that are top priorities for 2016.

The overall goal of the Illumination Project is to create a safer Charleston where individual rights are strongly protected. The project was developed by the nonprofit Charleston Police Foundation, which helps fund activities of the Charleston Police Department. 

Here are the 10 high-priority strategies of the Illumination Project:

STRATEGY 1. Collaborate with citizens who are disproportionately impacted by crime to develop crime reduction strategies to improve relationships and gain cooperation.

STRATEGY 2. Continue Listening Sessions in all parts of the community.

STRATEGY 3. Expand the department training curriculum for officers and supervisors [to promote among other things the Guardian Concept of law enforcement].

STRATEGY 4. Promote de-escalation as a core principle of the department’s training program.

STRATEGY 5. Identify, where needed create, and then disseminate instructional material, using both traditional methods and social media, to youth and adults about proper protocols to follow during citizen/police encounters to reduce the likelihood of conflict and confrontation.

STRATEGY 6. Create, train, and equip a Police Citizen Advisory Council (PCAC), ensuring transparency and broad participation in member selection including community activists, neighborhood leaders, educators, retired professionals from criminal justice, legal, and victim services, researchers, and youth, using input from elected leaders, community members and police employees.

STRATEGY 7. Implement an impartial Police Citizen Advisory Council that works with the police to develop and evaluate policies and procedures involving priority issues.

STRATEGY 8. Expand citizen/police interaction in challenged neighborhoods during non-crisis or enforcement situations by increasing communication about current programs and community outreach opportunities.

STRATEGY 9. Provide input for a process to make it easy and secure for citizens to make a complaint and or/provide a compliment about a police officer through a variety of methods which includes a notification letter of the complaint and disposition.

STRATEGY 10. Develop and implement a Chief’s Young Adults Advisory Council to provide input into community issues, problem-solving and create programs that support ongoing, positive interaction between youth and police officers.


Our 'Top 10' Strategies for a Safer Charleston and Racially Equal Policing

"Polarity Map" used by Charleston Illumination Project shows how police and community efforts to meet reciprocal goals of improving public safety and protecting individual rights can lead to clashes if all sides on issues aren't heard..

"Polarity Map" used by Charleston Illumination Project shows how police and community efforts to meet reciprocal goals of improving public safety and protecting individual rights can lead to clashes if all sides on issues aren't heard..

The Charleston Illumination Project will present its “top 10” strategies for a safer community with more racially equitable policing on Tuesday evening at 6:30 before Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Council at City Hall -- but here's our own suggested short list:

1.    The Charleston Police Department should replace its skimpy and slow-paced quarterly activity reports with an  all-new interactive website that shows the community, on a daily basis, what crime is happening and where, right down to the street corner.. 

Some local police departments already do this. One of the best sites is the one operated by the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. The Illumination Project’s list of 86 citizen and police strategies it's in the midst of approving doesn't include revamping the current Charleston police website, but we believe such action is critical to the IP’s mission to "create a safe, secure and livable city where everyone is treated with fairness, [racial and ethnic] equity and dignity."

2.    “Sponsor a re-entry program for felons to aid them in being successful.” -- Citizen Strategy #4 in IP's list of recommendations.

3.    “Assess and evaluate current enforcement practices on traffic stops, investigatory and consensual contacts.” -- Police Strategy #53.

Beyond Catfish Row recently detailed the disparate number of black motorists who have been stopped by City of Charleston police through June of this year -- in sharp contrast to the reduction of such stops by North Charleston police. Police Strategy #53 should be explicit about racial disparities in City of Charleston stops.

4.    “Create a Police Citizen Advisory Council, ensuring broad participation and transparency of selection of citizens, using input from elected leaders, community members and police employees.” -- Police Strategy #66.

5.    “Implement a Police Citizen Advisory Council that works with the police to develop and evaluate policies and procedures involving priority issues…” -- Police Strategy #67.

6.    “Prohibit predetermined numbers for any enforcement activity.” Police Strategy #68.

7.    “Assist police in creating an asset map of potential citizen partnerships and community resources, then prioritize for making connections using high leverage groups such as the Charleston Apartment Association, neighborhood presidents and school leadership.” --Citizen Strategy #72.

8.    “Expand the Faith Community Engagement subgroup to lead and plan various programs with a goal to tap their leadership to be involved in other parts of community.” -- Citizen Strategy #75.

9.    “Partner with educations to identify different approaches to dealing with at-risk youth outside the criminal justice system.” -- Police Strategy # 78.

10.  “Conduct a performance assessment of police department policies and practices utilizing the city’s Performance Innovation Program methodology for more effective policing services.” -- Police Strategy #79.

Mayor Tecklenburg told the Charleston Area Justice Ministry's Nehemiah rally in the spring that such an assessment was in the works.

Our suggestions #2 through #10 are on the IP's list of 86 recommendations, which was presented at its citizen information meetings on Aug. 9 and 11 at Greater St. Luke AME Church, but which won't be posted online until the Tuesday meeting with the Mayor and City Council.

A more robust site displaying Charleston police activity would be a big boost to the IP’s mission.

Regarding our first suggestion -- which isn't on the IP list -- if the Charleston Police Department had a more detailed and up-to-date website, that improvement would speed action on many of the IP’s 86 citizen and police strategies. With such a site, the entire community would have a much better view of crime in the city and where it is most concentrated, especially violent felonies.

We gave Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen information about the DC police department's website last month, and later, at the Aug. 9 information meeting, he told us the site sounded like a promising model for the Charleston Police Department. Maybe development of a new and better website of police activity has been incorporated in the IP's revised list of its 86 recommendations, which won't be released until Tuesday night's meeting at City Hall. In fact, we hope it's part of the "Top 10" the IP will be presenting to the Mayor and City Council..

* * *

The Illumination Project is sponsored by the Charleston Police Foundation, a nonprofit group which helps to finance Charleston Police Department activities.




New in Charleston - Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation

We've become acquainted with a new organization in town that, from what we see, promises to be a major force in the quickening drive to bring racial equality to Charleston. It is the Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation. We sat down recently with MVFR's two Southern Organizers who are stationed in Charleston, Deirdre Douglas-Hubbard and Ed Ducree, for this Q & A:

What is Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation all about?
Founded in 1976, we are the first and longest-operating national organization led by murder-victim family members working to galvanize the movement to end the death penalty. Based in Raleigh, MVFR played a central and critical role in the campaigns that have repealed capital punishment in states from New Jersey to Nebraska. We also helped lead the passage of, and worked to preserve, the North Carolina Racial Justice Act. Working strategically with campaigns and national partners, we continue to deepen public understanding of the policies and practices that serve family survivors of violence far better than the death penalty. Our stories about the murders, or the legal state murders (executions), of our loved ones is what has given true life to the anti-death-penalty movement.

Will you be working with families of the victims of the massacre at Mother Emanuel?
While the Rev. Edward Ducree, Southern Organizer for MVFR, is a member of and on the staff of Mother Emanuel, currently there are no plans to work with family members of the massacre.

Since your major goal is to assist families of murder victims, how does that work and toward what end?
After a homicide, the psychological and emotional reactions are so traumatic and sudden, that the family members are shocked into total disorientation that adds stressors to the already complicated grieving process. MVFR, along with numerous additional support work, provides family members with a context to have their voices heard and needs met, to receive wraparound services to heal and restructure their lives and to navigate overwhelming activities and responsibilities imposed on them by the media, coroner's office and criminal justice system.

The most neglected and critically vulnerable family members are the children and adolescents of murder victims' families. According to a recent report, "children and youth in the United States experience an alarming rate of exposure to violence and victimization from all crimes that affect adults....Compared with other segments of the population, victimization rates of African American children are even higher. Living in urban environments also increases the risk of exposure to violence, and one quarter of low-income youth have witnessed a murder. In one study of inner-city 7-year-olds, 75% had heard gunshots, 60% had seen drug deals, 18% had seen a dead body outside and 10% had seen a shooting or stabbing at home."

The Charleston chapter of MVFR's special emphasis will be Children and Youth Prevention Programming.

What's underway there?
Specific plans are in motion for skills building, violence prevention, parenting training and after-school programs by MVFR staff in collaboration with the Palmetto Community Action Partnership. Four critically underserved communities are the target for MVFR addressing problems caused by orchestrated poverty and neglect.

How long will MVFR likely have a presence in Charleston?

A year after the Mother Emanuel massacre, is Charleston ready to make serious progress on racial equality?
The best litmus test proving  that will be the moment when local governments initiate substantive strategies that provide economic and social justice to thousands of minorities living every day in communities of poverty, pain, violence and inferior schools.

What kind of reception have you received in the community?
Every attempt to market and promote MVFR has been received with enthusiasm and cooperation.


* * *

About Deirdre Douglas-Hubbard and Ed Ducree, Southern Organizers of MVFR in Charleston:

Deirdre Douglas-Hubbard: She lost an uncle and cousin to gun violence.

Deirdre Douglas-Hubbard: She lost an uncle and cousin to gun violence.

Deirdre Douglas-Hubbard,  a native of Lancaster, SC,  relocated to Charleston to pursue a degree in Psychology and Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston. At the College, Douglas-Hubbard assisted prominent scholars of Jewish and African American History. She led Holocaust classes at the College of Charleston, panel discussions relating to discrimination, intolerance and reconciliation, as well as study-abroad trips to Eastern Europe under the guidance of Dr. Theodore Rosengarten. In 2015, Deirdre was selected to intern at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. While working in the Human and Civil Rights Education Department, she created and implemented community projects to encourage awareness of the effects of violence, prejudice, discrimination and intolerance. Locally, Deirdre worked closely with the Charleston Promise Neighborhood, using her community organization skills to provide family therapy and other vital resources to strengthen underserved families.

Recently, Douglas-Hubbard was faced with two violent deaths when her uncle and cousin were both shot and killed in March of 2016. This horrific tragedy has deeply propelled her advocacy for the needs of victims' families and to promote healing and reconciliation. With her deep international and local experiences, she has developed a strong desire to foster understanding and community involvement and provide a nurturing space for victims’ families and communities affected by murder, violence, and discrimination.

Ed Ducree: His losses to violence include his brother-in-law and youth with whom he worked..

Ed Ducree: His losses to violence include his brother-in-law and youth with whom he worked..

Ed Ducree is an ordained minister who graduated from Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. He grew up in the tough ghettos of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant. After completing his undergraduate work at Cheyney State Teachers College in Pennsylvanian, he began his long career serving the underprivileged by returning to his old neighborhood as a street-gang worker for New York City. Over the years, he has developed needs-based programs in in several cities and is certified in anger management, conflict resolution and cultural competence. Ducree was hired by the New Jersey Department of Corrections as a consultant and teacher to relieve racial tensions  between correction officers, administrative staff and inmates. His did community organizing and leadership work on behalf of the residents of the black neighborhood of Buttermilk Bottom in central Atlanta. The city government and Bedford Pines - the new name for Buttermilk Bottom - erected a historical marker in recognition of Ducree's work. Since relocating to Charleston, Ducree has served on the staff of Mother Emanuel.

Ducree has experienced several traumatic deaths, including the murder of his brother-in-law. He has helped to bury young gang violence victims with whom he worked and assisted in funeralizing victims of domestic violence.

*  *  *

The Charleston Chapter of MVFR has an Advisory Team of local community activists who assist Ducree and Douglas-Hubbard in how the Chapter carries out its mission. They are:

Ron Kaz, death penalty abolitionist; Vanessa Halyard, family advocate, Dee Norton Lowcountry Children Services; Evangelist Tyese Miller, prison ministry and juvenile detention volunteer; Darcell White, parent advocate and former Charleston police officer; Ila Oree, emotional and behavioral disorders with children; Raymond Nelson III, founder of “Boys With A Purpose”; Paul Stoney, President/CEO of YMCA; Kelvin Huger, local attorney, Count and Huger; Mavis Huger, local attorney, Counts and Huger; and Kenneth Joyner, Memminger Elementary School 5th-grade teacher and a leader of “Boys With A Purpose"; and Tom Grubisich, editor of “Beyond Catfish Row” and a former Washington Post reporter;


Tale of two cities: North Charleston zooms ahead in racially equal police stops

The Post and Courier today published an op-ed by Beyond Catfish Row Editor Tom Grubisich headed "North Charleston takes the lead in this tale of two cities." The article (reprinted below) shows how North Charleston, in contrast to Charleston, has greatly reduced racial disparities in its police traffic stops, and is significantly cutting back on the overall number of stops.

Tom Grubisich

For months, the Charleston Area Justice Ministry and the City of North Charleston were hurling angry charges at each other on the racially hyper-sensitive issue of police traffic stops. When negotiations between the two sides broke down in the spring, North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers accused CAJM of “bullying tactics.” CAJM member Kim Westerson fired back, saying such accusations were “intentionally deceitful.”

Both Driggers and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey rebuffed CAJM’s invitations to attend its “Nehemiah Action Assembly” in March. At the rally, their empty chairs were prominently labeled with placards bearing their names. 

But amid all the back-and-forth denunciations, the North Charleston Police Department has been quietly reducing its disproportionately high number of police stops of black motorists compared to white drivers. It has also accelerated its reduction in stops overall – deciding, in effect, they aren’t that important in its fight against the city’s crime rate, which is very high in some, mostly black neighborhoods.

The chart below shows what has been happening on the ground – or, rather, on the road – in the wake of charges and counter-charges flying at meetings, press conferences, rallies and in social media.

Based on North Charleston police stops made between January and May, the year should end with about 60% of the contacts targeting black motorists, an analysis by the Beyond Catfish Row blog shows. That number is very close to the percentage of the black population of the city compared to whites – 57%. Just three years ago, black drivers were involved in 68% of stops, and that was when the black percentage of the city population was smaller.

The chart also shows the dramatic decline in overall stops. For 2016, stops should end up being a little more than a quarter of what they were in 2013.

What’s behind these big changes in North Charleston? This is what city spokesman Ryan Johnson told me:

“There have been no policy changes at North Charleston Police Department regarding traffic stop procedures.  However, as demonstrated by the data, stops are down and that trend actually began before April of 2015.  We believe a variety of factors contribute to the change.  Among other things, these would include the difference in enforcement and policing philosophy of Chief Driggers compared to that of his predecessor, NCPD’s reflection of a national trend away from the once ubiquitous low (zero) tolerance models of policing, and NCPD’s reflection of changing local preferences in terms of its mission.”

However Johnson’s seemingly contradictory explanation is decoded, the numbers on police stops in the chart speak for themselves: North Charleston is very close to doing what the Charleston Area Justice Ministry has been advocating. It’s also doing what the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommends in its 2015 report: “Law enforcement agencies and municipalities should refrain from practices requiring officers…to initiate investigative contacts [police stops] with citizens for reasons not directly related to improving public safety.”

But black motorists in North Charleston who head down Meeting Street into the City of Charleston are, statistically, more likely to have a far different, and unhappy, experience. Beyond Catfish Row’s analysis shows that racial disparities in Charleston’s traffic stops today are almost as great, percentage-wise, as they were at their high point three and four years ago (see chart below). The white population of Charleston is three times greater than the black population. But blacks still account for 40% of police stops, a single percentage point lower than 2013’s peak.

The racial disparities in the Charleston numbers don’t mean, automatically, that city police discriminate against blacks. City officials say a significant number of incidents may be “poverty stops” involving poor black drivers who have a hard time financially repairing vehicle defects that catch police attention (e.g., a broken taillight). The racial composition of high-crime, predominantly black neighborhoods – where many stops are made – could skew the numbers too, city officials say. But, on the other hand, tourism puts about 10,000 more vehicles onto Charleston streets daily, and 97% of those vehicles are driven by whites.

Charleston’s Police Department has launched an Illumination Project to build better relations between its officers and the community – the mission of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The project held several dozen “listening sessions” this spring and is gathering written feedback that it will air at meetings on Aug. 9 and 11 at Greater St. Luke AME Church in Charleston before it makes its recommendations for a comprehensive action plan in September.

In gathering information for its recommendations, the IP’s Citizens Advisory Committee, we should hope, will look at what North Charleston is doing in traffic stops that’s so different from Charleston in reducing racial disparities. Let us hope it will also look at that report from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing which calls for the elimination of police stops that don’t make the community safer. 

Finally, we hope it will listen to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. On July 1, at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, CO, Lynch compared 20th century policing – with its “warrior” approach in law enforcement, shaped by the drug trade and its accompanying violence – to the “guardian” approach of the 21st century, with community-centric standards and expectations. She said:

“The pendulum swung too far in [the warrior] direction. To say there is a frayed relationship of trust between law enforcement and many communities, especially minority communities, is the understatement of the generation.”

Dallas Police David Chief Brown brought this kind of community policing to his city before the six local officers were killed in last week’s ambush and he remains foursquare behind it after the tragedy that sent the country reeling. 

Standing next to his boss, Mayor Mike Rawlings, at a press conference last Thursday, Brown said: “Police officers are guardians of this great democracy… And so we won’t militarize our policing standards, but we will do it in a much safer way every time. Like we chose to do it this time [using a robot to detonate an explosive that killed suspected killer Micah Johnson]….We are not going to let a coward who would ambush police officers change our democracy. We are not going to do it. Our city, our country, is better than that.”

The author is is founder and editor of the local blog Beyond Catfish Row and a former Washington Post reporter, and lives in Charleston.




On Father's Day at Mother Emanuel, the Mayor plays 'Amazing Grace'

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg playing "Amazing Grace" at Mother Emanuel Church. In front pew is his wife, Sandy Tecklenburg. (Click on image to see video.)

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg playing "Amazing Grace" at Mother Emanuel Church. In front pew is his wife, Sandy Tecklenburg. (Click on image to see video.)

by Tom Grubisich

"There are a lot of nice things that I can say about this person," said Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark, pastor of Mother Emanuel Church, standing at her pulpit. "He's humble, he's kind, he's compassionate. But all I need to say is he's our Mayor, John Tecklenburg. Thank you, God."

Whereupon, the Mayor walked from the front-row pew he occupied with his wife, Sandy, to the piano a few feet away, sat down and played (and sang) "Amazing Grace."

It happened at Mother Emanuel's Father's Day service Sunday morning, two days after the church, the city, the state and the nation commemorated the first anniversary of the massacre of the Charleston Nine on June 17, 2015.

Tecklenburg is an accomplished, lifetime pianist, whose specialty is early jazz,. Fitting for the occasion at Mother Emanuel, he is the father of five children.

On Friday, the Mayor joined other local officials in calling for more action against the gun violence that claimed the Charleston Nine. In a commemorative event at TD Arena, Tecklenburg said, "Can't we at least remove the availability of assault weapons to those who have broken the law, those who have mental issues. Can't we at least complete reasonable background checks for folks before purchasing weapons?"

The most recent mass killing -- of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday, June 12 -- occurred within less than a week of the first anniversary of the Charleston massacre.

Pastor Clark cited the Orlando mass murder during the altar call as she laid her hand on kneeling worshippers.

At Sunday's Father's Day service at Mother Emanuel, Pastor Clark cited the Orlando mass murder during the altar call where she laid her hand on a stream of kneeling worshippers who recommitted themselves to Christian life.

In the Father's Day litany that followed, Brother William Seabrook told the audience in the packed sanctuary, "We thank you for this day to celebrate and commemorate our fathers. As we continuously pray and support them, may they accept and take care of the gift of fatherhood."

Commemorative events throughout the city will continue through Saturday, June 25.

Cynthia Graham Hurd, one of the Charleston Nine.

Cynthia Graham Hurd, one of the Charleston Nine.

On Monday morning at 9 o'clock , a large mural of books by artist Nick Kuszyk will be dedicated to one of the nine victims of the massacre, Cynthia Graham Hurd, at John L. Dart Branch Library at 1067 King St. In her long career with the Charleston County Public Library system, which including managing the Dart Branch, Hurd was a committed advocate of literacy programs for young people.  The creation of the Cynthia Graham Hurd Foundation for Literacy and Civic Engagement was announced last month.

The full schedule of commemorative events is here.




The Mother Emanuel Nine and 'Charleston united for equality - now!'

by Tom Grubisich

The massacre at Mother Emanuel Church on June 17, 2015, generated a broad and spontaneous outpouring in Charleston not only of shock and grief but also a resolve to create a community that was united in striving toward racial equality. 

Among family and friends, in encounters on the street, at business lunches, in houses of worship, on the grass of Marion Square as nine bells tolled, the people of Charleston of all colors and stations came together. The words “Charleston united for equality – now!” written on posters and recited out loud bound everyone together.

The words were not expressed in vain. In the past year, this is what has happened to make Charleston more racially equal:

  • The Medical University of South Carolina has substantially strengthened its diversity program by giving hospital workers a direct role in settling long-standing grievances. The goals of the 1969 strike are finally within reach.
  • Charleston County School District Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait, in a “brutal” truth telling, has pledged to close the system’s white-black achievement gap through a broad range of new and strengthened programs in both academic and social and emotional learning. 
  • The local business leadership, reaching out to the broader community, has initiated a OneRegion strategy for a more globally competitive Tri-County economy whose eight components include achieving equality and equity. This is a major first for the region’s business community.
  • The Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation has established an operation in Charleston that it hopes will become a national model for a wide-ranging program of racial reconciliation.
  • The Charleston Police Department has begun its Illumination Project to build better relationships between the community and law enforcement.
Metro Charleston must come to grips with the disproportionate number of police stops of black motorists.

The goals of each of these five undertakings will not be achieved quickly or easily. But they are now, what they weren’t before, written prominently into the community’s agenda.

This agenda for action on equality is incomplete. Most glaringly, the region – in particular the cities of Charleston and North Charleston – must come to grips with its disproportionate number of police stops of black motorists. 

The Charleston Area Justice Ministry has put the facts before the leadership of the two cities. These charts by Beyond Catfish Row show the extent of the imbalance.

Drawing of Rev. Clementa Pinckney that mourner placed in front of Mother Emanuel within days of the massacre that claimed the lives of the pastor and eight church members during Bible study group he was leading on the evening of June 17, 2015.

Drawing of Rev. Clementa Pinckney that mourner placed in front of Mother Emanuel within days of the massacre that claimed the lives of the pastor and eight church members during Bible study group he was leading on the evening of June 17, 2015.

Another major area of inequality is Charleston’s public history. The city likes to promote its “living history.” But, in fact, the long struggle for social justice in Charleston remains largely buried. Officially sponsored tours still put too much effort in polishing the brass of the slave society that defined Charleston’s first two centuries.

The long-planned International African American Museum should redress part of what’s missing in local public history, but it is only at the halfway point in funding. Local history activists are working to win state approval of a historical marker honoring the 1868 state constitutional convention, an assembly of 126 white and black delegates that approved, by wide margins, a remarkable array of civil and human rights. The group also wants to put on a 150th anniversary celebration of the convention, whose debates echo in today's about equality
                                                                       * * *
At this time, the community honors the nine members of the Mother Emanuel congregation who were called on June 17, 2015. Their sacrifice helped unite the community in its long-deferred mission to bring racial equality to Charleston. If we tarry in carrying out the mission, we should remind each other what we said and pledged to each other one year ago: “Charleston united for equality – now!” 


Spoleto's 'Porgy and Bess': Finally, Blacks Are Themselves

by Tom Grubisich

For the first time in its 81 years of existence, “Porgy and Bess” has been produced without a heavy load of wrongly packed racial baggage. It’s happened in Charleston, where the folk opera was artistically birthed but not presented for decades because Jim Crow laws prohibited shows with integrated audiences.

Curtain call at conclusion of May 30 performance of Spoleto's "Porgy and Bess;" In the bright red dress, created by Visual Designer Jonathan Green, is Alyson Cambridge, who played Bess. To her right is Lester Lynch, who is Porgy, and to her left, Eric Greene, who is Crown.

Curtain call at conclusion of May 30 performance of Spoleto's "Porgy and Bess;" In the bright red dress, created by Visual Designer Jonathan Green, is Alyson Cambridge, who played Bess. To her right is Lester Lynch, who is Porgy, and to her left, Eric Greene, who is Crown.

Spoleto Festival USA’s production at the Gaillard Center is the triumph that the original 1935 "Porgy and Bess" on Broadway , for all its theatrical and racial daring, wasn’t. There are many principals who are responsible for this signal success, but praise must begin with Visual Designer Jonathan Green, the Charleston painter and Gullah community advocate.

It was Green’s idea to imagine the inhabitants of Catfish Row as having come to Charleston the same way that the English, Scots, French, Germans and people from so many other countries did – looking for a better place to live. But the Gullah culture that Green has brought to such rich and variegated life is not to be confused with the same culture that native Charlestonian DuBose Heyward brought to the original folk opera, via his 1925 novel “Porgy” and its 1927 stage adaptation which he wrote with his wife, Dorothy.

A bit of background on DuBose Heyward helps to explain the significance of Green’s achievement. As a young man in Charleston and novice writer of poetry, fiction and essays, Heyward immersed himself in the Gullah culture to which most blacks in the area belonged. Gullah originated in West Africa but was shaped by subsequent experiences that blacks from that region had when they were enslaved and sent to work in plantations in the Caribbean and the coastal sea islands and lowcountry. 

Heyward brought his “Porgy and Bess” collaborator, George Gershwin, to Folly Island for a crash course on Gullah that included visits to church prayer meetings where the composer could experience the culture close up. 

Jonathan Green, visual designer for Spoleto's 'Porgy and Bess."

Jonathan Green, visual designer for Spoleto's 'Porgy and Bess."

Gullah religion was a hybrid of paganism and Christianity. Its story telling was expressed in song that scaled from mellifluous near-whispers to exuberant shouts, and in dance that animated the entire body. Bold, bright colors are another Gullah emblem. The culture, long threatened during the Jim Crow era of segregation, has gained a new life in recent years in large part because many blacks want to connect more closely with their ancestors and their lives and times going back to slavery.

Heyward was an heir to a family in the local white aristocracy whose antecedents included a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His consuming interest in the Gullah culture and preserving it gave him a degree of racial progressivism that other members of Charleston’s patrician and racially separate culture shunned. But ultimately Heyward saw blacks as racial “primitives” – a genetic subset that could be pinned to the wall in a white-ordered typology that veered into fantasy, however sympathetically it might expressed.

One of the most picturesque scenes in “Porgy and Bess” is the Gullah picnic on Kittiwah Island (inspired most likely by the real Kiawah Island). In his libretto, Heyward says the picnic’s paraders “crashed through the slow rhythm of the city’s life like a wild, barbaric chord.”  

Scene from picnic on Kittiwah Island (modeled after the real Kiawah Island) in Spoleto's "Porgy and Bess." Visual Designer Jonathan Green is responsible for the overall look. Courtesy Spoleto Festival USA.

Scene from picnic on Kittiwah Island (modeled after the real Kiawah Island) in Spoleto's "Porgy and Bess."
Visual Designer Jonathan Green is responsible for the overall look. Courtesy Spoleto Festival USA.

In Green’s design, the Gullah characters express themselves during the parade and in other scenes of happiness and tragedy without inhibition. But they are not “primitive” or “wild” or “barbaric” as they are in Heyward’s white-sourced racial portrayals. There’s not the minstrelsy waving of hands and rolling of eyes that white artists invariably worked into their posters and other art for and about "Porgy and Bess." Green was raised in the Gullah culture, so he knows whereof he paints and conceptualizes on his multi-dimensional operatic canvas.

In his review of “Porgy and Bess” in the Charleston City Paper last week, Editor Chris Haire captured Green’s achievement

“Green…chose as his mood board the alt-reality idea that the men and women of Catfish Row were descendants of Africans who came to Charleston as willingly as the blue-bloods who inhabit South of Broad. It's Green's vision — as well as set designer Carolyn Mraz and costume designer Annie Simon's expert execution — that are the stars of this production. These contributions alone elevate Spoleto's Porgy and Bess to a level that few other shows this season will likely attain. They breathe new life into the Gershwin-Heyward opera and make it decidedly relevant to today's post-Mother Emanuel world.”

The sensibility that Green has brought to Spoleto’s “Porgy and Bess” is enormous, but, as Haire points out, other members of the production made major contributions. To Haire’s list should be added David Herskovits, who, as the director of Spoleto’s 1999 production of DuBose and Dorothy Heyward’s “Mamba’s Daughters,” knows DuBose Heyward’s strengths and limitations in interpreting black life.

What is wrong with the original “Porgy and Bess” was scaldingly enumerated by black critic Harold Cruse in his “Crisis of the Negro Intellectual” in 1967:

["Porgy and Bess"] must be criticized from the Negro point of view as the most perfect symbol of the Negro creative artist’s cultural denial, degradation, exploitation and acceptance of white paternity….Negroes had no part in writing, directing, producing or staging this folk-opera about Negroes….[It] should be forever banned by all Negro performers in the United States….If white producers want to stage this folk-opera it should be performed by white performers made up in black face, because it is distorted imitation all the way through.”

While Spoleto’s “Porgy and Bess” is not the only version in which blacks were centrally involved in the writing, directing, producing or staging, it’s the first one that redresses the basic problem of a presumptuous white interpretation of black life – in particular the Gullah culture – and without creating as whole new set of problems.
A prominent example of reimagined stagings that were less successful is Broadway’s 2011 “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess," which was written by Suzan-Lori Parks, who is black. For example, Parks’ reworked “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” which is sung by Porgy, so it wouldn’t be interpreted as what she called a “happy-darkie-with-the-empty-pockets song." But Gershwin, who wrote the song's music to lyrics by Heyward and George's brother, Ira, reportedly was comfortable that the number would be heard as a sardonic, tongue-in-cheek commentary by blacks on how their lives were economically marginalized (by whites).

Porgy, as portrayed by dramatic baritone Lester Lynch in Spoleto's production.

Porgy, as portrayed by dramatic baritone Lester Lynch in Spoleto's production.

Heyward’s libretto should be honored for what it got right. His Porgy and Bess are not, for the most part, racial stereotypes. At the end of the opera, when Porgy learns that Bess has left Catfish Row and gone with her drug dealer Sportin' Life to New York City, he reacts as a lovesick human. Holding up his arms as he is helped onto his goat cart, he says, looking northward:

“I’m on my way.

Oh Lawd, I’m on my way.”

The endings in the novel “Porgy” and its stage adaptation were problematic about what Porgy would do regarding Bess. Rouben Mamoulian, who directed “Porgy and Bess” – as well as the earlier stage work – urged Heyward to use the bold new words that the librettist did add, and which make the folk opera’s co-lead a timeless hero on whichever world stage he sings his promise from a tortured heart. The crucial revision is recounted in Joseph Horowitz's Mamoulian biography, "On My Way."

Heyward and his production partner Gershwin made “Porgy and Bess” a vehicle to break up the segregation of blacks both as actors and audiences. The folk opera has numerous parts that widened opportunities for black actors, who, until then, had been segregated into minstrel-type shows or given stereotyped roles in other shows. It’s true that some of the new roles were white-distorted interpretations of Gullah characters, but, over the years, they opened many doors to the employment of black actors not only in New York but theatrical centers elsewhere in the U.S.

Jim Crow laws against racially mixed audiences kept ‘Porgy and Bess’ out of Charleston for 35 years.

Heyward and Gershwin refused to permit “Porgy and Bess” to be produced in any segregated venue, which is why it wasn’t presented professionally in Charleston until 1970.

Spoleto’s “Porgy and Bess” is important not because it is a “black” production, which it isn't. It is important because, for the first time, this work, which has been called America’s greatest opera, presents black life beyond the sometimes fevered racial views of white artists who, otherwise, stuck their neck out for black equality. This racial truth telling has been more than eight decades in the making. As the Gullah fishermen in “Porgy and Bess” say, “It Takes a Long Pull to Get There.”

Metro Charleston ranks better in income than nation and peer regions

Metro Charleston’s middle class shrank slightly between 2000 and 2014, but its upper-income households surged 37.8%. Households making lower incomes declined slightly.

The numbers, reported by the Pew Research Center, show that metro Charleston, overall, is doing better in income while the nation is doing worse.

Metro Charleston's 4.7% decline in the middle class did not sent more people into poverty. On average, it sent more people into upper, not lower, incomes. The national pattern was more mixed. There are more households in the upper incomes, but also in the lower ones.

The sharp rise in upper incomes in metro Charleston doesn't mean that every new local household at those levels is part of the "1%."  Upper income begins at $125,000. Income for the 1% starts at about $15 million.

Metro Charleston out-performed the nation in two major areas -- the decline of its middle class was smaller and it saw a decline in lower-income households compared to the increases that two-thirds of all metro regions experienced.

Metro Charleston out-performed the nation in two major areas -- the decline of its middle class was smaller and it saw a decline in lower-income households compared to the increases that two-thirds of all metro regions experienced.

The Pew numbers do not break out incomes by race, so they don’t show whether black households in metro Charleston are doing better.

Demographically over the past decade and a half, metro Charleston has a smaller black population – 26% compared to 31% in 2000. The Hispanic population grew from 2% to 5%.

Other findings about metro Charleston from the Pew data:

  • ·The 4.7% decline in metro Charleston’s middle class was slightly higher than the national average of 4%.
  •  The cost of living locally is 96% of the national average.
  •  In income inequality, the region ranks just below the worst-performing top quarter among the 229 metro areas in the survey (which covers 76% of the U.S. population).
  • Metro Charleston was tied with metro Austin in Texas for the smallest decrease in middle-class households among its eight "peer" regions (see chart below).
  • Charleston was the only region among its peers to see a decrease in lower-income households (see chart).
The new   One Region   strategy for metro Charleston is issuing a socio-economic survey this month which will compare the region with the eight peer cities in this chart.

The new One Region strategy for metro Charleston is issuing a socio-economic survey this month which will compare the region with the eight peer cities in this chart.

Local group acts to put missing spotlight on 1868 constitutional convention

There's encouraging progress toward Charleston mounting a 150th anniversary celebration of the most significant but largely forgotten attempt to create racial equality in South Carolina.

The auspicious event was the state constitutional convention which took place in January-March 1868 at the now-gone Charleston Club House on lower Meeting Street.

‘One of the most incredible, hopeful and unbelievable experiments in the history of mankind.’

Preparing to telegraph his account of the convention's delegates adopting their new constitution on March 17, 1868, the reporter for the New York Herald described what he saw over 53 days as "one of the most incredible, hopeful and unbelievable experiments n the history of mankind." 

Today, recognition of the convention and what it enacted in human and civil rights is nearly invisible in Charleston's public history. But organizers of the 150th anniversary celebration are setting in motion a process to erect an official state historical marker of the convention at 71 Meeting St., in front of where the Charleston Club House stood before it was pulled down after it was irreparably damaged in the hurricane of 1886. The location is adjacent to the Waring Judicial Center at Meeting and Broad Streets.

Plans for the marker were on top of the agenda of the May 2 meeting of leaders of the Carolina Lowcountry Atlantic World (CLAW) program, which promotes public awareness of interconnections between the cultures, societies and ethnicities of the Lowcountry and the broader Atlantic World. CLAW, which is based at College of Charleston, is planning a 2018 conference that is being broadened to include the 1868 constitutional convention. 

The meeting focused on steps to give the convention more public attention through a prominently displayed marker that will be located on the edge of the Charleston Historic District, which attracts several million tourists and other visitors annually.

Organizers laid out a plan they said would produce a marker that could be unveiled at 71 Meeting St. in time for the CLAW conference, which will be held at its home, the College of Charleston.

The group at the May 2 meeting included Chairman Simon Lewis, one of the principals of CLAW and a professor in the English Department at CofC; Tim Condo, Manager of Preservation Initiatives of the Preservation Society of Charleston; Mary Battle, Public Historian of the Avery Research Center; Adam Domby of the  College of Charleston's History Department, who specializes in the Reconstruction era; Jon Hale, an education historian also at CofC; Edwin Breeden, a history doctoral candidate who helped get a marker commemorating the Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon (see photo above of Breeden at unveiling of marker) at East Bay and Broad Streets, not far from where the constitutional convention was held; John White, Dean of Libraries at CofC; Bruce E. Baker, a professor in the School of History, Classics and Archeology at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, whose research specialties include Reconstruction; and Tom Grubisich, editor of Beyond Catfish Row, which has been an advocate of greater recognition of the 1868 constitutional convention and its special but not popularly recognized place in the advancement of human and civil rights.

Also part of the conference-marker planning group is Michael Allen, an education specialist with the National Park Service who is helping to organize the Service's "Reconstructing Reconstruction" 150th anniversary commemoration of Reconstruction. 

Participants at the May 2 meeting discussed a "call for papers" on topics of the March 2018 CLAW conference, which will examine the impact of Reconstruction on the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World, especially on people of African descent in recognition of 2015-24 being the International Decade for People of African Descent.

The conference will address a number of themes including the expansion of enfranchisement generally, especially to African Americans, but also to women, and to unpropertied citizens, public education; women's rights; the gradual ending of slavery in the Atlantic World; and the impact of Reconstruction on the black-ruled republics of Haiti and Liberia.

Lewis said the conference will also look at promoting an examination of the numerous but largely undocumented and sometimes fraudulent accusations of corruption against mostly black federal, state and local officeholders during the Reconstruction era from 1868 to 1877. One of the few Reconstruction leaders to be charged and convicted was Francis L. Cardozo, the free black cleric, educator and Republican activist who was one of the leaders of the 1868 constitutional convention and later served as South Carolina secretary of state and state secretary of the treasury. How Cardozo, who was subsequently pardoned, was framed in his corruption trial proceedings, has been detailed in the South Carolina Law Review by W. Lewis Burke, a professor at the USC Law School. Burke supports a 150th anniversary celebration of the convention and told Beyond Catfish Row he would like to address such an event about the Cardozo case. Political and racial "conundrums abound." in the case, Burke wrote in his extensively researched SC Law Review article.

Anyone interested in participating in the expanded CLAW conference, where such conundrums might well be examined,  should contact Chairman Lewis, at






More help is on the way for black Charleston students reading below level

Charleston County public schools are doing a poor job educating black students. The worst results are in Reading, which is the foundation for all learning.

Among 3rd-grade black students, only 16% read at their level vs. 59% for white students. The black-white Reading gap is nearly twice as wide as it is for Math (chart below).

The ACT Aspire assessment tests given to Charleston County public school students in spring 2015 showed a wider gap in Reading proficiency among black students compared to white students, as revealed in the 3rd-grade results of this chart..  SOURCE: Charleston County School District.

The ACT Aspire assessment tests given to Charleston County public school students in spring 2015 showed a wider gap in Reading proficiency among black students compared to white students, as revealed in the 3rd-grade results of this chart..

SOURCE: Charleston County School District.

There are hopeful signs that the county system, finally, is giving black students more and better help in Reading. Dr. Valerie E. Harrison, the recently appointed Chief Academic Officer, told us last month about instructional improvements focused on struggling readers.

Here are two more improvements Harrison has told us about:

  • "'Text Talk' has been used in many of our schools to increase vocabulary development in K-2 students. But there has not been a systematic method of assessing its effectiveness in increasing vocabulary. In 2016-17, Text Talk will be implemented in five at-risk schools in grades K-2. Teachers will receive the training and materials necessary to implement with fidelity and a method to assess its effectiveness will be developed.
  • "One of the outcomes of our studies has been the obvious need for greater focus on the “bubble” student, i.e. those who are not that far from 'Ready.' In 2016-17, greater emphasis will be placed on providing intervention support for [those] students."

Reading interventions to help struggling students are labor-intensive. The county school system's fiscal problems - worsened by recently uncovered mismanagement - is putting pressure on intervention programs. But these programs are critical to equal education for blacks, who are close to 50% of the county system's enrollment. They must be improved and expanded. 


Does MUSC action on job grievances mean justice after nearly 50 years?

by Tom Grubisich

When the Medical University of South Carolina Board of Trustees earlier this month approved new grievance procedures for its basic workers, I wondered if justice at MUSC was finally being achieved after nearly 50 years.

It was in 1969 that overwhelmingly black and women hospital workers struck MUSC - then the Medical College of South Caroline - for decent wages and better working conditions. Out of the acrimonious strike that went on for 113 days, the hospital workers, who included nurses' aides, orderlies, kitchen help and other "non-professional" employees, did win pay increases that raised their floor to the federal minimum wage of $1.60 an hour. Before the strike, many workers made as little as $1.30 an hour, well below the federal minimum. But because the workers' nascent unionization was not recognized by MUSC in the strike settlement,  a strong, transparent and permanent mechanism to enforce grievance claims about working conditions was never set up.

This big gap in what the strike settlement was supposed to do for workers continued decade after decade, with little public attention. Then, about two years ago, protesters led by the Healthcare Workers United, the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment and The Coalition - People United to Take Back Our Community began petitioning the MUSC Board of Trustees to resolve outstanding grievances and establish a firm, long-term mechanism to give workers better protection - and fulfill what the 1969 strikers had sought. On Friday, April 8, the trustees finally took action on the festering grievance issue


Pastor Thomas A. Dixon: "I will continue to remain optimistic."

Pastor Thomas A. Dixon: "I will continue to remain optimistic."

Did this mean that the hospital workers had finally achieved social justice after nearly half a century? To find out, I went to Pastor Thomas A. Dixon, co-founder of The Coalition - To Take Back Our Community. Dixon has been a co-leader of the protests that have been mounted at meetings of the MUSC Board of Trustees since 2014. He is also running as a Democrat in the November general election against U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R), who is seeking his first full term after being appointed to the position by Gov. Nikki Haley in 2013 to fill the vacancy created when incumbent Republican Jim DeMint resigned to head the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. 

Here's what Dixon told me regarding how he interprets what the MUSC trustees did on grievances:

Is there now social justice at MUSC, nearly a half century after the hospital workers' strike settlement?
Actually, looking at the whole story, I see it as more of a setback at best. This celebration moment was premature because, although the Board met and deliberated over these issues in executive session on Thursday, April 7, and although we were promised the final drafts several times immediately after the meeting, we did not receive anything that resembled a hard copy with the final approved revisions until a week later. We are reviewing those revisions for completeness.

Technically speaking, at the Board meeting, we had no way of knowing exactly what was contained in those documents because we never received them and we didn't hear what was presented to the Board by MUSC Chief Diversity Officer Anton Gunn since we arrived as he was closing his presentation. This represents a serious breakdown in the communication process that we thought we had established, and set us back instead of moving us forward in the inclusion process we’ve worked so very hard to achieve.

When I first interviewed you - last fall at the Central Mosque of Charleston's open house where then-Mayor-elect Tecklenburg spoke - you were optimistic about race relations improving in Charleston. Based on what the MUSC trustees have done regarding grievance procedures, what's your outlook about race relations now?
I will continue to remain optimistic about improving race relations in Charleston and across the board nationally because anything less than hope for a brighter future will lead me to frustration and possibly deciding to give up the struggle…which, of course, is not an option. This breakdown in communication at MUSC was extremely frustrating, but I refuse to look at this as an irreparable breach. The only option for me is to repair the breach and move forward.

The regional business community is now saying that race equality will be an integral component of its One Region strategy to make metro Charleston more economically competitive. Is this significant, and should advocacy groups like yours be united to make sure it happens as promised?
This is absolutely significant because all levels of our community must have a voice at the table in order for the community to be fairly and accurately represented in the economic process. Anything less represents a return to the class system that has created the problems we are fighting against now. Everyone’s voice matters and excluding the voice of a particular subset of people from the dialogue will only result in an exclusionary, divided system.


CAJM and cities remain divided on police stops, but how wide is the split?

By Tom Grubisich

After the final round of no’s from local public officials last night about controversial police stops of motorists, Charleston Area Justice Ministry leader Ed Bergeron walked dejectedly to the podium and said: “To say I am disappointed is an understatement. To say I am severely disappointed is an understatement. We expect more from our public officials.”

Bergeron, who represents St. John’s Catholic Church in North Charleston, one of the 30 congregations that make up CAJM, delivered his bleak judgment at the Ministry's annual Nehemiah Action Assembly held in the sanctuary of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston.

But it was not clear after the evening, despite extensive CAJM questioning of elected officials from the governments of North Charleston and the City of Charleston, how divided the two sides actually were about the traffic stops, which the Ministry contends unfairly single out black motorists.

North Charleston City Council member Mike A. Brown, right, is questioned by CAJM's Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, at podium, at Ministry's Nehemiah Action Assembly at Mount Moriah Missonary Baptist Church in North Charleston on Monday night.

North Charleston City Council member Mike A. Brown, right, is questioned by CAJM's Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, at podium, at Ministry's Nehemiah Action Assembly at Mount Moriah Missonary Baptist Church in North Charleston on Monday night.

The murkiness of the controversy was especially apparent in questioning of the single member of the North Charleston City Council to show up, Mike A. Brown, who joined the governing body in January. Brown told the audience of 2,000 he would not support the Ministry’s proposal for an independent audit of the city police department’s controversial “investigatory” police stops of motorists.

“An audit doesn’t do anything but reveal what we already know," Brown said, under intense questioning by CAJM leader the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church. "We all know that there’s a problem. An audit is not going to solve it.”

But Brown did agree, and unhesitatingly, to CAJM’s more general proposal calling for the City of North Charleston to take “specific and measurable stops to reduce the number of investigatory police stops.” His disagreement with CAJM was focused on its separate proposal for an independent audit of North Charleston's Police Department based on “bias-based policing, specifically stops, questioning, frisks and searches.”

CAJM research shows that between 2010 and 2015, North Charleston police made 130,000 stops of motorists for minor infractions, like a dim light on a license plate, without issuing citations. CAJM said the stops were the highest number for any jurisdiction in the state. Police in the City of Charleston had the second highest number – 127,000 – CAJM said. Columbia, which is about the same size as Charleston, had only 33,000 in the same period, CAJM said its research showed.

CAJM has said it's pleased to find that North Charleston's police stops have declined significantly since the Ministry compiled its numbers for 2010-2015. But it still maintains there are too many, and that they disproportionately target blacks.

North Charleston Mayor R. Keith Summey and his Police Chief, Eddie Driggers, had angrily boycotted the Nehemiah, saying in a statement before the event: “There is no indication that the Nehemiah Action Assembly will garner any other results, based on previous experiences…. CAJM’s mission may be worthwhile, but their tactics and insular views are unfortunately unavailing.”

Their empty seats at the assembly were prominently labeled with Summey and Driggers' names.

Seats reserved for Mayor Summey and Police chief Driggers at Nehemiah, 04.18.16.jpg

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and four of the nine members of the Charleston City Council did mount the stage Monday night to answer questions from Rivers. But despite the pastor's close-to-prosecutorial grilling, CAJM did not get the answers it wanted to hear. What ensured was more murkiness.

Standing at the podium, feet away from Tecklenburg and the Council members, who were lined up in a row, Rivers laid out the rules: “Please answer the questions with a yes or a no. Afterwards, you will have 30 seconds to explain your answers.”

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, in center with hand raised, answers CAJM's Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, while four City Council members wait their turn.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, in center with hand raised, answers CAJM's Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, while four City Council members wait their turn.

Rivers put his first question – about whether the public officials would direct Police Chief Gregory G. Mullen to form a task force aimed at reducing investigatory police stops – to Tecklenburg: “No, sir,” the Mayor answered. Tecklenburg said the total number of city police stops of motorists that did not result in a citation was not huge for a force of 150 officers. The total of 127,000 stops over five years amounted to “one stop by one officer every third day,” he said.

Mullen did not accompany his recent new boss, who took office in January, to the Nehemiah.

Tecklenburg said not all police stops are “investigatory” – where the officer has enough “reasonable” suspicion to escalate  a "contact" stop to the next level that can lead to extensive questioning beyond the original alleged traffic infraction and even a pat-down of the motorist. He said there were many more “contact” stops where the officer was doing no more than stopping the motorist for an infraction like a defective taillight or failure to signal for a turn soon enough. Contact stops often do not lead to the officer issuing a citation, but only giving a warning to the motorist to fix the problem.

Tecklenburg said the real problem focused on how motorists were treated when they were stopped. He repeatedly stressed that any discrimination in stops was unacceptable, but did not say specifically whether there were enough stops to be called racially discriminatory and thereby merit official city action. 

Rivers, who said he had been stopped as a motorist by police in Charleston “at least 10 times” and “more than 10 times in North Charleston without a "piece of paper" ever being issued, persisted in his questioning of Tecklenburg about whether he would direct Police Chief Mullen to form a task force aimed at reducing the number of investigatory stops.

‘The way you ask the question, I would have to say no,’
Tecklenburg responded to Rivers.

“The way you ask the question, I would have to say no,” Tecklenburg answered, alluding to the distinction he made between “contact” and “investigatory” police stops.

Rivers went on with his questioning, but Tecklenburg said: "If we’re enforcing the law, I can’t tell my police officers not to enforce the law,” Tecklenburg. Traffic stops are based on laws covering motorists and their vehicles passed by the state legislature.

The four Charleston Council members asked the same questions by Rivers were Keith Waring, James Lewis, Dean Riegel and Rodney Williams. Their answers were generally the same as Tecklenburg’s. Like the Mayor, they said they opposed any discrimination in police stops, but said CAJM’s recommendations on independent audits of the city Police Department conflicted with how the city had to act legally on such issues.

Police stops have led to controversy in jurisdictions around the country about whether they're racially motivated. The Supreme Court in 1996 sanctioned routine stops that become investigatory if the officer has “reasonable” suspicion that the motorist may have committed an offense more serious than a traffic infraction. In such circumstances, the officer can pat down the motorist.

Under the Supreme Court's 1996 decision, a police officer needs only to stop a motorist for a traffic violation to set in motion the more serious "investigatory" stop -- the kind that led to the fatal police shooting of 50-year-old North Charleston father Walter L. Scott on April 4 of last year.

Audience at CAJM's Nehemiah Action didn't quite fill all  the seats in the expansive sanctuary of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston.

Audience at CAJM's Nehemiah Action didn't quite fill all  the seats in the expansive sanctuary of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston.

In earlier action at Monday night's Nehemiah Action Assembly, four members of the Charleston County school system’s elected Board of Trustees went to the stage to say they would support CAJM's call for a broader program of "Restorative Practices" aimed at further reducing the number of suspensions of students. Most suspended students are black, according to CAJM data. The four trustees at the Nehemiah were Kate Darby, Michael Miller, Rev. Chris Collins and Rev. Eric Mack. The other five members of the board – Cindy Bohn Coats, Chairman, and Todd Garrett, Tom Ducker, Chris Staubs and Tripp Wiles – were not in attendance.


The spirit of reconciliation and CAJM's Nehemiah Action on Monday night

By Tom Grubisich

Monday night’s big Nehemiah Action assembly in North Charleston could have been the perfect occasion, perfectly timed, for an honest discussion of controversial city policing stops of predominantly black motorists and the still-too-high rates of violent crime that drive those stops.

But this valuable discussion won’t happen because North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers have chosen to boycott the assembly. The annual event is sponsored by the Charleston Area Justice Ministry,  whose 30 congregations of all faiths throughout the Tri-County region represent about 30,000 worshippers. 

CAJM said the assembly, which will be held in the sanctuary of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, right in the heart of the city, starting at 7 p.m., would attract as many as 2,300 members of its congregations.

Scene from past Nehemiah Action of Charleston Area justice Ministry.

Scene from past Nehemiah Action of Charleston Area justice Ministry.

"My decision not to attend is I have no belief in CAJM's bullying tactics and their sheer disregard to treat folks with common decency,” Driggers said in response to the repeated invitations to attend the assembly from CAJM. “I have met with them in the past and every time, have been dismayed by the way I was treated and the way I have seen them treat others.”

Driggers is partially right – CAJM has overreached in its "direct-action" tactics in trying to get the chief and his boss in City Hall to come to its assembly. But despite CAJM’s heavy-handedness in talks with Driggers, he should have put himself above it and said he’d be at Mt. Moriah Monday night. (In fairness to CAJM, in previous discussions with Driggers on the high number of juveniles that his force was arresting in nonviolent incidents in public schools, Ministry negotiators had to cajole the chief into adopting a "risk assessment" that produced a significant reduction in arrests.)
The citizens of North Charleston need to hear why their police force makes high numbers of “investigatory” police stops of motorists – particularly black ones -- a major element of its fight against violent crime in the city. Following the trend nationally, violent crime has declined in North Charleston over the decade, but based on arrests for murder, rape, robberies and assaults, the city of 106,000 population is still one of the most unsafe communities in the U.S.

Mayor Summey, in his justification for not going to the CAJM assembly, made it clear, unintentionally, why he and his police chief should be at the event, which, by the way, will be attended by Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, who. amid the Summey-Driggers boycott, has confirmed he'll be at Mt. Moriah.

"I'm not going to change my mind," Summey said at Thursday night’s City Council meeting. "I would greatly appreciate it if these folks that are so concerned in their churches will go into their communities and witness to kids and gangs ... and fill up their churches with these people and our jobs will be a lot simpler. That's how they can work with us. Not tell us how to do our job."

CAJM says the police stops – one of which resulted in the internationally spotlighted police shooting death of unarmed North Charleston resident Walter Scott on April 4 of last year – make little impact against the rates of violent crime. What is Chief Driggers’ response?  It appears that his force has eased up on the frequency of its investigatory stops. Will this easing up end the disproportionately high number of stops of black motorists?

It’s vexing questions like these that could have been productively discussed at Monday night’s assembly – but won’t because Summey and Driggers won’t be there. Instead, there’s likely to be a lot of hot rhetoric aimed at the city’s two top officials. 

‘You did not abandon them,
for you are a gracious and merciful God.’

To a degree, the rebukes that will be delivered will be justified. But the Old Testament book of the prophet Nehemiah offers good advice on when punishment should end and reconciliation begin. In Chapter 9, Nehemiah catalogs the successive transgressions of the Israelites against their liberator and Creator, including those by his tribe of Judah. Addressing God, Nehemiah writes in Chapter 9, Verse 31:

“For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples.  But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.”

Let’s hope that these words of reconciliation will find their place at Monday night’s Nehemiah Action.

State acts to revamp much-criticized school report cards

The state got an earful about its annual school report cards at recent focus groups, where parents, business people, educators and ordinary citizens hammered away at information they said was unclear, confusing and alternately inadequate and overwhelming.

The report cards "don't tell you enough," "they're not kind to my eyes" and they "scare you away," focus group members complained.

Staff of the state Education Oversight Committee, which held the focus group meetings last month, has responded with a 32-page report calling for what amounts to a near-total revamping of the report cards.

Conceptual example of improved school report card. An example of the current, much-criticized state-issued report card is  here .

Conceptual example of improved school report card. An example of the current, much-criticized state-issued report card is here.

The report recommended  that $75,000 be spent on an "intake phase" of how to fix problems, followed by work to build a "robust, dynamic web-based report card for SC schools and districts that will meet the needs of the state and its diverse stakeholder groups by fall 2018. Improvements would include:

  •  Clearly defined summaries on how schools and districts are performing that lead to more detailed information.
  • Formats that adapt to print and all digital platforms.
  • Multiple methods to find and compare schools and districts, as well as view trend data.
  • Mechanisms so that users can communicate with knowledgeable persons if they have questions (i.e. text, email, live chat)..
  •  Explanations of jargon and education terms.

The most important objective of the report cards is to measure how well public schools and their districts are doing in giving every student, including those who represent black and other minority groups, equal opportunity in achieving an education that will prepare them for career or college upon graduation.

But members of the focus groups were broadly critical of the report cards, which were last issued in 2015, with future rankings delayed until 2018 so the state can sort through all the implications of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, a replacement for the No Child Left Behind federal law. ESSA gives the states more flexibility in how to carry out reporting requirements for how well public schools are doing from early education pre-kindergarten through high school.

One key element of the new report cards is very likely to include a comparison of results at South Carolina public schools to those in other states. Under the state Department of Education's old Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) annual tests, norms to measure levels of achievement were developed by comparing only statewide results. This led to "soft" report cards because results were well below performance in many other states. But in 2015, the state used the nationally normed (and more rigorously scored) ACT Aspire assessment tests, and that produced results that showed students scoring well below performance in previous years under PASS. The state did not convert the ACT Aspire results to formal, school-by-school report cards because of the moratorium prompted by the changeover to evaluation under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

To see the most recent school report cards issued by the state Department of Education, go here.


Full disclosure: The author of this post was a member of the general focus group.


Memminger principal: 'When you have a kid's heart, you can grow a kid's mind'

Memminger Principal Dr. Abigal Woods and Kindergarten teacher Gloria Murray.

Memminger Principal Dr. Abigal Woods and Kindergarten teacher Gloria Murray.

by Tom Grubisich

The wall at Memminger Elementary School is ablaze with an array of bright hearts. Under the heading “Mariner Affirmations,” the hearts are inscribed with hand-written, silver-inked messages from students to teachers and support staff and vice versa:

“Food Service: Ms. Brown & Co - WE LOVE YOU!”

“Thank you Mr. Joyner for inspiring me to do what's right. Ta'Shaun"

“Dream is a focused student. She makes great eye contact. Mr. Liston”

The messages – there are more than 50 - are part of "relationship building" at Memminger. “Relationships matter a lot,” says Principal Dr. Abigal Woods. “We want to capture hearts – our children’s, the staff’s, our families’. Building relationships fosters accountability and team building in the learning process.”

Memminger is on a mission – to rise beyond its recent history as an “at-risk” school (how it was ranked by the state in 2012 and 2013) and achieve authorization as an International Baccalaureate institution.

Memminger is getting a special focus from the Charleston County school board, which wants to make the school an academic model among the system's high-poverty, predominantly black schools, most of which are performing below average in state-issued report cards and annual assessment tests.. Toward that end, the board gave Memminger the green light to go for IB certification and earlier made the school a partial magnet for its less-encompassing Global Studies Program.

A secondary, but not absolute, goal of both the school board and the Memminger community is to make the school more diverse. More than 90% of Memminger's enrollment is black, and most of those students are in high-poverty families.

While it draws many of its students from the nearby and overwhelmingly black Robert Mills Manor public housing cluster, Memminger is surrounded by upper-end white Charleston. More than 15% of households in the school's 29401 ZIP Code earn more than $200,000 yearly and more than 12% earn between $100,000 and $200,000. These numbers make 29401 one of the most affluent ZIPs in the Tri-County region.

Most of 29401's white families send their children to private schools. The result is reverse, de-facto segregation that makes Memminger mostly black in enrollment. Before it was desegregated, in 1963 - nine years after the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racially separate schools - Memminger was an all-white school.

In its most recent state report card - 2014 - Memminger went up one notch to “below average.”  But from its pre-kindergarten program through grade 5, Memminger must continue to raise its levels of achievement in the basics of English, Reading, Writing and Math to meet the expectations of the county school board and achieve IB authorization.

IB authorization could come as early as 2017.  Says Woods about the crucial time between now and 2017: “Our teachers have had numerous professional development days to support the IB process, as well as support from the coordinator, coaches and administration. The students' learning and curriculum are reflective of IB practices that will support authorization.

For Woods, success in achieving authorization and what that means for each of Memminger's 340 students begins with relationship building typified by the display of "Mariner Affirmations." She says: "Relationships are an investment of the heart. When you have a kid's heart, you can grow a kid's mind."


More than half of Tri-County poor are stuck in 'concentrated poverty'

by Tom Grubisich

More than half of the poor people in metro Charleston - most of them black - live in failing neighborhoods impacted by high levels of "concentrated poverty," a new report from the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution says.


The chart above, adapted by Beyond Catfish Row from the Brookings report, shows the extent of concentrated poverty in metro Charleston. It compares conditions in the Tri-County area to those in "benchmark" regions against which greater Charleston will be rated in the forthcoming One Region strategy report of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and Charleston Regional Development Alliance that is scheduled to come out in May.

The One Region strategy is being designed to make metro Charleston more economically competitive in global markets. It is especially significant because, for the first time, racial equality and equity would be a cornerstone of economic rejuvenation in the Tri-County area. Eliminating racial disparities - which abound in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty - is called an "economic imperative" in another Brookings report, issued in February. The unfolding One Region strategy dovetails with that report.

Concentrated poverty exists when people who are poor account for at least 20% of a neighborhood. It is getting increasing attention because numerous on-the-ground studies show how it can adversely effect the entire life and structure of a neighborhood, including:

  • Quality of schools.
  • Condition of housing.
  • Rates of violence and other crime.
  • Fairness of law enforcement and criminal justice.
  • Availability of decent-paying jobs.
  • Delivery of basic services like health care.

A neighborhood with a high level of concentrated poverty has, studies document, low levels of the human and social capital it needs not only for the livability of its residents but also to make a positive contribution to its overall region.

The new Brookings report details the extent of concentrated poverty and shows how pervasive it is - in metro Charleston and throughout the nation.  "The number of people living below the federal poverty line...remains stuck at recession-era record levels," the report says. It draws a bold line connecting neighborhoods of concentrated poverty to the health of the overall region, saying:

"The many barriers imposed by living in a poor neighborhood make it that much harder for residents to move up the economic ladder, and their chances of doing so only diminish the longer they live in such neighborhoods. Moreover, in regions where the poor are more segregated into poor places, the dampening effect on mobility extends beyond distressed neighborhoods to lower economic mobility for the region as a whole."


The report has one piece of relatively good news about metro Charleston: The Tri-County suburbs continue to give blacks opportunities - albeit limited ones - to move up and out of poverty (chart above). The black poverty rate in the suburbs of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester Counties is close to 20% lower than it is in the City of Charleston, maintaining a trend that is holding up with 14 years of statistics put together by the Brookings report. But the trend line has flattened out since the year 2000, indicating that the suburbs aren't providing sufficient opportunities for blacks. 

Poverty, including at its concentrated levels, crosses color lines in metro Charleston, at the new Brookings data shows. But the heaviest burden falls on blacks. Even though the region's white population is three times greater, blacks account for well more than half of those who are poor, especially at concentrated levels that can blight entire neighborhoods.



'We will not be free until we address our history of racial injustice'

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, speaking at the second event in the College of Charleston's "Race and Social Justice Initiative," Thursday night at the Sottile Theatre.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, speaking at the second event in the College of Charleston's "Race and Social Justice Initiative," Thursday night at the Sottile Theatre.

Equal justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, who has been fighting on behalf of the incarcerated - from children to the condemned - for nearly 30 years, asked his Charleston audience Thursday night to make personal commitments to "raising the quotient of Charleston, the state and the nation."

Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Institute in Montgomery, AL, reeled off a list of stunningly grim statistics about America's relentless waves of incarceration that began in the early 1970s:

  • 2.3 million people in prison in 2015, up from 300,000 in 1972.
  • 6 million on parole or probation.
  • 70 million with criminal-arrest records, which narrow their employment opportunities and otherwise misshape their lives.

The list went on. But it was Stevenson's personal testimony about what launched him on a life mission to bring justice to the jailed and imprisoned that riveted the attention of his audience at the Sottile Theater on the College of Charleston campus. His talk was the second in the College's "Race and Social Justice Initiative" funded by a $125,000 grant from Google.

Bryan Stevenson: The challenging journey to the "higher ground."  PHOTO CREDIT: Nina Subin.

Bryan Stevenson: The challenging journey to the "higher ground."


Stevenson told what happened to him when, as a 23-year-old law student at Harvard, he went to the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta to do an internship on justice for condemned prisoners. The Center's staff sent him to the state prison in Jackson, GA, to tell a condemned man that he had been given a reprieve. The year was 1982.

"This was the first condemned prisoner I had ever seen," Stevenson told his audience. "What struck me was how burdened in chains he was. He had handcuffs on his wrists, he had a chain around his wait, he had shackles on his ankles. It took them 10 minutes to unchain him....I went up to him and said, I'm sorry. I'm just a law student."

Stevenson continued:

“I said, ‘But you’re not at risk of execution any time in the next year.’ That man said, ‘Wait, wait, say that again,'" Stevenson recounted. “I said, ‘You’re not at risk of execution any time in the next year.’ He grabbed my hands and he said, ‘Wait. Say that again.'"

After repeating the statement several times, Stevenson said the inmate opened up.

“We sat down and talked for almost three hours - and we’d only scheduled to be there for an hour," he said. "The guards got mad. They came in and they were treating the guy so roughly when they were taking him out.”

“He turned to me and he said, ‘Bryan, don’t worry about this. You just come back.' 'Then he did something I’ve never forgotten: He closed his eyes, he threw his head back and he started to sing:

"'I'm pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.'

“They started pushing him down the hallway. I could hear the chains clanging, but I could still hear him singing about higher ground. Things changed for me. All of a sudden, I knew I wanted to help condemned people get to higher ground. My journey to higher ground was tied to his journey to higher ground. If he didn’t get there, I wouldn’t get there either.”

Stevenson told his audience - as if he was talking to each of them one on one - that they too could reach to higher ground:

"The first thing we have to do is get proximate to the place where injustice can be seen. There is this need for all of us to get close to the area of this community where there's suffering, where there's poverty, where there's despair, where there's neglect, where there's abuse.

"You cannot be an effective justice seeker, you cannot do effective work, from a distance. You have to get close.

"We have a lot of policy makers and politicians trying to come up with solutions to problems. There solutions don't work because they're too far away to see the details of the problems. If you want to make a difference, if you want to change things, you've got to get proximate."

For average middle-class white residents of metro Charleston - the large demographic slice that typified the majority of Stevenson's audience Thursday night - getting proximate would be a major undertaking like none most of them have never done. The high-poverty, deeply segregated neighborhoods he was talking about, whose many black males are incarcerated or on parole or probation or are former convicts with lifetime criminal records and comprise a big part of high joblessness among blacks, are essentially invisible to the region's middle class, especially white people. For a resident of the Lower Peninsula or Sullivan's Island or Mt. Pleasant, a trip, say, to "The Neck," which comprises a cluster of high-poverty neighborhoods in the Upper Peninsula like Bayside, Silver Hill and Rosemont would be like a trip to another country.

Stevenson's audience at the Sottile Theatre rose twice to applaud him after he concluded his talk.

Stevenson's audience at the Sottile Theatre rose twice to applaud him after he concluded his talk.

Stevenson said getting physically close to inequality is step one for  justice seekers. He said they must also hope against what sometimes seems like hopelessness, be willing to "do uncomfortable things" (like, for him, having to encounter "Old South" attitudes daily in Montgomery) and finally change the narrative that "slavery is a thing of the past when it has really evolved into a legacy of racial inequality."

"Nothing that has happened in this community, nothing that has happened in communities across this country, can be explained without an investigation into this history of racial injustice," he said. "We will not be free until we address this history."


No. Charleston police chief tells CAJM he won't come to its April 18 assembly

North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers rebuffed a showdown meeting with the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, which wants him to come to its big April 18 assembly and address his department's controversial policy of making frequent minor traffic stops that CAJM says are discriminatory against blacks.

North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers, who rebuffed Charleston Area Justice Ministry on participating in its April 18 Nehemiah Action Assembly, group says.

North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers, who rebuffed Charleston Area Justice Ministry on participating in its April 18 Nehemiah Action Assembly, group says.

Fifty-one CAJM leaders met with Driggers last Tuesday, but the group's Facebook page says the chief "refused" its long-standing invitation to come to its annual Nehemiah Action Assembly, where local public officials say what their jurisdictions will do to eliminate racial bias that is flagged by the Ministry.

This is what CAJM said about its meeting with Driggers, which included Mayor R. Keith Summey and other governmental officials:

"We...laid out the data and research and asked Chief Driggers to publicly lead our community in addressing racial discrimination and community distrust by being at the Nehemiah Action on April 18th. He refused.

"It is unacceptable for a public servant to refuse to meet with 2,300 members of his community. We said that it was our expectation that he would reconsider and commit to attend and made clear our commitment to him to follow-up."

Driggers did attend a previous assembly that led to a substantial reduction in the arrests of students for disruptive behavior at North Charleston High and other city schools, CAJM says.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg has told CAJM he would come to the April 18 event. He is likely to report on what Charleston is prepared to do to earmark upwards of 25% of jobless workers for the city government's construction projects. CAJM is also targeting the City of Charleston for its practice of minor traffic stops, so that issue is likely to come up as well.

CAJM is on target to bring upwards of 2,300 people to the assembly, which is the keystone of its "direct-action" strategy to prompt local jurisdictions to end racial disparities that the Ministry says hit poor blacks the hardest. The assembly will be held at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, one of the 30 congregations that are members of CAJM and that represent 30,000 worshippers of all faiths.

On minor traffic stops, CAJM says North Charleston "leads the state." with over 67% of motorists who are pulled over being black, even though the black population of the city is only 45%. The stops are for infractions like a taillight that doesn't work.

Two days after Driggers said no to coming to CAJM's April 18 assembly, a leader of the group from North Charleston's Charity Missionary Baptist Church , Jamilah Frazier, told a session of the North Charleston City Council that the so-called "investigatory" traffic stops have no significant effect on lowering the rate of serious crime, and that they could be replaced by alternative "best practices" that other jurisdictions use to prevent felonies.

Jamilah Frazier, who represents North Charleston's Charity Missionary Baptist Church in the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, addressing the North Charleston City Council on March 22 about Police Chief Eddie Driggers rebuffing CAJM's invitation to participate at its April 18 Nehemiah Assembly 

Frazier, addressing Police Chief Driggers' no to coming to her organization's assembly, said:

"We expect him to be there and we look forward to meeting with each of you to show the urgency of the problem and [that] best practices, if implemented, will build community trust in our police department."

North Charleston resident Walter L. Scott, a 50-year-old father of four, was shot to death by a North Charleston police officer on April 4, 2015, during an altercation that ensued after the officer stopped Scott for a defective taillight.

The case attracted international attention when a bystander's video of the event showed the officer, Michael T. Slager, 31 at the time, methodically firing a series of shots at unarmed Scott as he ran from the scene. "I was sickened by what I saw" in the video, Police Chief Driggers said at the time. Slager was subsequently indicted for murder and is awaiting trial.

The Scott family accepted a $6.5 million settlement from the City of North Charleston that ended all civil litigation. 



From 1969 to 2016: How the arc of social justice is bending in Charleston

by Tom Grubisich

In the early weeks of the hospital workers’ strike of 1969 – the defining event in the struggle for social justice in Charleston during the Civil Rights Movement – Paul Hardin Jr., the white bishop of the state Methodist conference, articulated his church’s neutral position:

“The Church is not in the business of trying to solve controversial issues regarding assignment [of workers] and labor. It is in the business of trying to minister to all of the people on all sides of all fences and of both races.”

Hardin’s declaration helped to dissuade local white Protestant denominations from supporting the overwhelmingly black service workers who struck two major hospitals for fair pay and professional job opportunities.

Rev. Ralph Abernathy, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, right, marches with Local 1199B President Mary Moultrie and United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther during local hospital workers' strike in 1969.  PHOTO CREDIT: Avery Research Center, College of Charleston.

Rev. Ralph Abernathy, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, right, marches with Local 1199B President Mary Moultrie and United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther during local hospital workers' strike in 1969.

PHOTO CREDIT: Avery Research Center, College of Charleston.

Most of the religious support for the workers came from local black congregations, who provided food and financial help and opened their houses of worship to strike rallies, including those led by the Rev. Ralph D. Albernathy, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which co-organized the strike.

The Concerned Clergy Committee was sympathetic to the strikers and appealed to hospital management to listen to their grievances, but the group of mostly white ministers was too small to have major impact.

The Catholic bishop of Charleston, Ernest Unterkoefler, said in a private letter that the hospital workers had the right to organize under church social doctrine. But he didn’t mobilize his local pastors and their congregations, with their many white members, to take any collective action in support of the strikers. His private attempts at mediation with hospital management didn’t go anywhere.

Forty-seven years later, 30 Charleston congregations - of all faiths and white and black and integrated – work arm in arm for social justice. They do it through the four-year-old Charleston Area Justice Ministry, whose “direct action” mission has brought major reductions in suspensions and arrests of primarily black students in the Charleston County school system and is making progress on other social-justice issues in the Tricounty area.

On April 18, CAJM will hold its Nehemiah Action Assembly in the sanctuary of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, one of its member congregations. At a March 14 rally at Mount Moriah, CAJM congregations committed to what could fill the church’s sacristy with 2,300 of their members on April 18. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg will be one of the attendees.

In 1969, there was no such solidarity. The Charleston County Council condemned the “unwarranted strike” at the two hospitals, one of which it oversaw.

Change about racial inequality and inequity in Charleston is happening not only within the local religious community but also in business. The One Region initiative of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance is integrating equality and equity into its strategy to make the region more economically competitive in global markets.

As One Region takes shape in 2016, its leadership has pledged to continue the “conversation” it began last fall with representatives of local groups dedicated to racial equality and equity.

Nearly a half a century later, it’s looking as if the racial divisions of the hospital workers’ strike are going into history along with the tumultuous times of that 113-day walkout.

State seeks a new 'pause' in school report cards - until 2018

The state Department of Education is seeking another "pause" in the annual "report cards" it gives on the academic performance of public schools. The new pause would mean that Tri-County and other state public schools wouldn't get new report cards until 2018 - three years after the last ratings.

The Department of Education is  seeking the delay to better align its work on school performance with the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind legislation. ESSA gives states more flexibility in meetings academic performance standards.

Charleston County district-wide school scores under the one-year ACT Aspire assessment given in 2015 showed that a majority of students in Grades 3-8 were not "Ready" in Reading (chart above). But the state didn't issue report cards on school performance in 2015, and won't in 2016, either. Report cards for 2017 are now in question as well. Single bar at bottom of chart shows four sample scores - "Exceeding" and "Ready" and "Close" and "In Need of Support." Students needed to score in first two categories to read at grade level.

Charleston County district-wide school scores under the one-year ACT Aspire assessment given in 2015 showed that a majority of students in Grades 3-8 were not "Ready" in Reading (chart above). But the state didn't issue report cards on school performance in 2015, and won't in 2016, either. Report cards for 2017 are now in question as well. Single bar at bottom of chart shows four sample scores - "Exceeding" and "Ready" and "Close" and "In Need of Support." Students needed to score in first two categories to read at grade level.

A second pause in report cards would come at an especially important time for Tri-County public schools, which are trying, but so far not very successfully, to close the historic achievement gaps between the performance of white and black students. The extent of those gaps was underscored by the results of the 2015 ACT Aspire assessment tests given to elementary and middle-school students. The results showed that black students were performing far worse in reading, writing and math than they were under the old, less rigorous PASS assessment system.

Charleston County School Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait on Feb. 22 issued a "brutal facts" report on widespread failures in the system to close minority academic performance gaps. Postlewait said the gaps begin to open up in the early years of education and continue through high school, and pledged widespread reforms to close them.

The  state has developed a new assessment system - SC Ready - to replace ACT Aspire. The SC Ready tests will be given this spring in all state public schools. But it's not yet clear how rigorously the state will grade student performance with SC Ready. How well students do in the assessment test will be a big part of their schools' final report cards - which wouldn't be issued until 2018 under the proposed new "pause."