Members of the Eastside community of downtown Charleston met with law enforcement and city officials Tuesday night to address the concerns and demands of residents who feel as though they have been left on the back burner.
A standing-room-only meeting at the nearby downtown Trident Technical College campus gave members of the community a chance to voice opinions to a panel of city officials and law enforcement representatives anonymously through question cards.
"I am so proud of my community," said president of Eastside Community Development Corporation, Latonya Gamble, who organized the event. "I thought it would be one side or the other, but my community showed up in numbers. I really wanted an open dialogue, but it would be chaotic with this many people."
Tuesday's meeting came less than a day after U.S. Marshals arrested Shannon Lamont Johnson, an 18-year-old West Ashley man, for the murder of Tim Haman, a sous chef at a King Street restaurant, early last Thursday evening on Hanover Street.
The panel, which included Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds and Mayor John Tecklenburg, along with other community members, addressed these questions and concerns personally.
"What we talked about tonight is how can we come together as a community, not just as a police department, not just local government, but the community itself," Reynolds said. "I think there is a desire to do that. That's part of what makes Charleston so unique — instead of tearing us apart, I think those issues, those tensions and those conflicts often push and pull us together."
Mayor John Tecklenburg was among those present at a public meeting to address Eastside safety on Tues. Aug. 13
Many of the comments brought up dealt with public safety, and how the community can deal with crime that seems to go unaddressed in Eastside. Many of the concerns brought up have allegedly been brought up in the past, with results having yet to be seen.
"I think they like to say they listen, but where is the proof in the pudding? Where are the results?" asked Vangie Rainsford, neighborhood president of the Garden District.
"We are still having the same problems. I think until you put an entire community together, and I'm talking about the Charleston community, until you do that, you aren't going to make much progress."
Rainsford said that part of the issue is that the problems Eastside has been dealing with have not been brought to light for the community as a whole to address together.
"You should say, 'I'm going to draw a line in the sand. I'm going to put an officer on each corner and come up with a viable plan for the public,'" Rainsford said. "We don't need to hide anymore. We need to make this a prominent issue."
These concerns were echoed by Gamble. She addressed the mayor directly as a representative of her community.
"We feel that we are always put on the back burner when it comes to this neighborhood, and we simply want that to stop," Gamble said. "We really want you to just be fair. If you're going to do something for one, do it for all. All lives matter in this neighborhood, not just some."
To many who were involved in this public meeting, this was the first step of many in the right direction for Eastside.
"I think we had a good dialogue, but progress has yet to be made in terms of rolling our sleeves up and doing the work of meaningful engagement," Reynolds said. "It's clear to me that we have a lot of work to do to gain the confidence of the community, to solve more problems, to invest in the Eastside in particular."
Others, especially those who live in Eastside, aren't as confident, but are hopeful that the meeting will at the very least be a catalyst for further progress.
"I don't know if we really made any progress in this meeting at least," said one resident, Charles Lane. "A lot of the ideas that we brought up, they have been the same issues at least for the past year, and almost none of them see any progress. I'm hoping at least this meeting and people's interest has given us at least a little forward momentum."
Reynolds said that he is aware that the issues facing the community are not going to be solved with one public meeting, focusing on long-term expectations.
"It's ongoing. I tell people it's almost like a marathon, and we are on mile two or three," he said. "I think we have to be focused on the long game, and part of that is immediate, short-term wins. We closed this case — that's a positive. I think having an increased presence and an increased engagement is helpful. It's all about relationships, so we have a lot of work to do."
Gamble says she plans on reaching out to city officials to hold them accountable to their words at the panel.
"I would like to do a follow-up meeting to make sure that the neighborhood is being heard," Gamble said. "I think people are coming up to us, but I want to give it a month or so and reach out to see where we are."