NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Just over a year after a black motorist was shot and killed by a white police officer, an audience of about 2,500 people gathered at a North Charleston church Monday calling for an end to police targeting blacks in routine traffic stops and arresting students on school campuses.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers did not attend the meeting sponsored by the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, an organization of nearly 30 church congregations. A city spokesman said that when they met with the group previously, they were simply rebuked.
The Rev. Megan Gray of Cokesbury United Methodist Church said that during the past five years, there have been 130,000 traffic stops in North Charleston in which no tickets were issued. In nearby Charleston, there were 127,000 stops while in Columbia, a city of similar size, there were only 33,000 so-called no-contact stops.
In April 2015, black motorist Walter Scott was shot and killed fleeing a traffic stop. Former police Officer Michael Slager faces a murder charge in the case. The shooting became one of the events to fuel a national debate about the use of force and how white police officers treat black people.
Gray said that blacks are pulled at twice the rate of whites for such reasons as taillights being out, driving too close to the white line or having window tint that is too dark.
“These stops significantly diminish community trust, which makes it tougher for our officers to do their jobs well and safely,” she said.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg did attend the meeting.
When asked whether he would direct the police chief to participate with the Justice Ministry in developing a plan to reduce investigatory stops, the mayor said he would work to improve community relations.
“I want to ensure justice and reduce discrimination in the city of Charleston,” he said. “To say you want to reduce those stops means you want me to tell police not to enforce the law or you want me to direct police to give a ticket every single time.”
Local high school student Shayd Williams told the gathering that although 42 percent of the students in the Charleston County School District are black, 83 percent of those arrested on campus are black. Many are arrested for things such as fist fights and other offenses where in decades past, students would get detention, not be arrested.
The group wants the local school board to implement across the district a plan where such incidents are handled at school, not by calling in resource officers.