In December 2015, a jury failed to indict officer Timothy Loehmann, who, within two seconds of arriving at a Cleveland park, shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice for playing with a toy gun. On May 17, 2017, Tulsa officer Betty Shelby was found not guilty of manslaughter; she shot and killed Terence Crutcher, who was unarmed and had his hands in the air when Shelby opened fire. On June 14, 2017, a jury acquitted Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed Philando Castile in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter. In each case, there was video evidence.
And during the June 20, 2017 Charleston City Council meeting, in what amounted to a finger-wagging filibuster of Councilman James Lewis' resolution to hire a firm specializing in racial bias to audit the Charleston Police Department (which was ultimately voted down), Mayor John Tecklenburg cited a reduction in citizen complaints against CPD as a measure of the effectiveness of the department. Tecklenburg reasoned that because all Charleston officers have body cameras, people should feel safe reporting instances of unfair policing. "So if you have someone who is afraid for some reason to register a complaint about the way they're treated when they're pulled, we want to know about it," Tecklenburg said. "And please don't let them quote 'get away' with being scared to do it . . . the officer has a body camera. I mean, we can see what happened at that stop. We have that record. There's no need to be afraid to come forward."
There's a lot to unpack here, but since I've had a little vacation from writing about how an alarming number of our city and county leaders unwittingly (assuming best intentions here) fail to see injustices that don't directly affect them, I feel rested and up to the challenge.
Could it be, perhaps, that the lack of complaints does not indicate a lack of bias by but instead a lack of trust in CPD? In Tecklenburg's epic 35-minute rant — which he began by quoting Obama and punctuated throughout with jabs at Charleston Area Justice Ministry (because nothing says unity like accusing religious leaders of having "denigrated our police force") — Tecklenburg repeatedly cited the truly commendable accomplishments of the Illumination Project whose September 2016 Community Engagement, Planning, and Implementation Report cites the result of the survey conducted by the Riley Center that found that although "Charleston area residents have confidence in the Charleston Police Department . . . the surveys reveal significant differences of opinion by race." Basically, the Black residents surveyed did not have as favorable an opinion of the police as white residents, particularly when it comes to transparency. Not surprisingly, the Riley Center found that "the biggest determinant of whether a citizen is willing to report crimes to the police or work on a community policing project is their opinion of the police." I don't think it's much of a leap to deduce that this distrust might also lead to not reporting instances of unfair treatment by the police.
Further, given that officers are rarely indicted for and almost never convicted of killing Black people, even with video evidence, could it be that there is a concern that body cam video doesn't necessarily facilitate accountability, therefore there's little reason to file a formal complaint when nothing gets done? I'm not sure how else to say this, so here goes: Body cameras do not protect Black people. Video evidence does not ensure justice.
Look, my aim is not to disparage CPD or Chief Mullen. I support the Illumination Project, and I support CAJM's call for an independent audit for racial bias that doesn't involve Novak, particularly given the lack of diversity involved in both the selection process of this firm and the company itself. But I cannot support our mayor when he dismisses the testimonies of racial profiling presented during council meetings by both council members and concerned citizens because they aren't formally filed complaints. I cannot support his refusal to fully acknowledge the fact that CPD leads the state in public contact stops, which disproportionately target Black residents (they are twice as likely to be stopped), and to recognize this as potential racial bias. I cannot support what I fear is a greater commitment to preserving Charleston's reputation over real transparency and action. And I can't support our mayor centering his own feelings and pride throughout the ongoing saga over the audit at the expense of those whom it most directly impacts.