(North Charleston, SC) – Six months ago, Walter Scott, an unarmed African-American man, was killed by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager during a routine traffic stop. Next week, community members in North Charleston will gather to discuss their own encounters with police officers and suggestions for improvement as part of a broad effort to improve policing practices in the city. The co-conveners of the public meeting, entitled The People’s Town Hall, include the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the North Charleston Branch of the NAACP, and the ACLU of South Carolina.
North Charleston residents have been concerned about policing for years. “The events of recent months raise serious concerns and have increased the pressure on local authorities to address long-standing issues of police misconduct,” said Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of LDF. “While awaiting a full federal investigation, it is critical to give voice to the concerns of the residents of North Charleston and hear their proposed solutions following this tragedy.” The Town Hall is the first public event of its kind since the events surrounding the Walter Scott killing. It is open to all.
Mr. Scott’s tragic death brought attention to racially-biased policing, traffic stops, and the use of excessive force by the North Charleston Police Department, which prompted over two dozen local organizations, clergy and elected officials to send a letter to the U.S. Attorney General requesting a federal investigation of whether the police department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. As federal officials consider this request, LDF, the North Charleston Branch of the NAACP, and the ACLU of South Carolina will continue their own investigation of policing practices in North Charleston by receiving testimony from residents about interactions with local police. The groups will also solicit suggestions on how to improve police practices and community-police relations.
According to the groups’ letter to the U.S. Attorney General, between January 2011 and May 2015, North Charleston Police Department stopped 122,818 drivers and released them without citation or arrests. African-American drivers were overrepresented in this number (65%), white drivers underrepresented (33%). Anecdotal evidence from residents also indicates that North Charleston police officers often use minor traffic violations such as a broken taillight – the reason for Mr. Scott’s stop – as a pretext to stop African-American drivers. These stops are dehumanizing and demoralizing to the African-American community and serve to break down relationships between the police department and the community.