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Town hall meeting focuses on response to South Carolina shootings

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Apr 28, 2015 - 8:13:06 AM

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Michael Thomas Slager, North Charleston police officer who shot and killed unarmed man Walter Scott. Photos: MGN Online
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. ( - Black Lives Matter of Charleston and Black Lawyers for Justice recently organized a town hall and “Evidentiary Hearing on Policing, Race and Injustice in South Carolina” in the continued aftermath of the police slaying of Walter Scott in early April

National and local organizers convened to hear and address testimony from incensed and fed-up residents who had personal encounters with North Charleston police.

 “TURN UP Y’ALL, WE ALL WE GOT; WE’RE DOING THIS FOR WALTER SCOTT” was the mantra and tone for the hearing that drew attention to unresolved issues stemming from alleged injustices in the city of 100,000 people.

“We want to be honest here,” said Attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice, an activist lawyers group that is conducting an independent investigation in South Carolina looking at the Scott killing and other injustices suffered by Blacks.

“We don’t want to duck the issues; we don’t want to mute the issues, because the time is too critical—too much blood running in the streets; too many Black bodies are dropping across America; too much pain here in South Carolina,” Attorney Shabazz said.

He moderated the session following a keynote speech April 19 where he called on President Obama to use his office to address escalating killings by the police. He described Mr. Obama as “absent without leave” and criticized the president for being hands off in the issue of police brutality. 

“Why Mr. Obama have you not come to Charleston, to Ferguson, to Oklahoma, New York ... when your own people, your citizens are being killed?” Atty. Shabazz asked. “Why haven’t you stood up as the most powerful man in the most powerful nation in the world? Where are you, Mr. Obama?”

Making the case for why Blacks must resist, Attorney Shabazz discussed the relationship between Blacks and Whites in South Carolina.

“You have been oppressed in this state, you have been marginalized in this state, you have been placed in psychological fear and mental bondage by racism and White supremacy, in this state,” he said.

“I come to stir the pot—straight up. I come to stir the pot and let you know it’s alright. It’s time for you to stand Black South Carolina; it’s time for you to stop being ashamed … to stop being psychologically oppressed and for us to stand up like grown men and women,” said Attorney Shabazz.

The panel talked about varied agendas, methods, ideas and solutions to injustices permeating North Charleston. The panel included State Representative David Mack III, Dot Scott of NAACP-North Charleston, activists Denise Cromwell and Demond McElveen; Muahiydin D’Baha of Black Lives Matter and Nation of Islam Charleston Representative DeAndre Muhammad.

We aren’t waiting for anyone claiming “a magic pill,” said local activist D’Baha, expressing the sentiment of the youth in the struggle for change. He said there must be credibility with Black leadership and elected officials. 

“This is to the pastors, the imams, whoever is standing up and saying ‘I’m speaking for the people,’ we need to trust you. And so on the frontlines when something like this is happening, we want to see your face right there on the frontlines—every single time,” said Mr. D’Baha.

The response to Walter Scott’s killing is taking place amid a mayoral election where White incumbent Keith Summey is seeking re-election after 21 years in office. Two Black mayoral candidates set to challenge Mayor Summey addressed the meeting. North Charleston is racially charged where people of color comprise a 58 percent majority but is controlled by a 41 percent White minority, according to figures from Several panelists strongly advocate change through the ballot box while others emphasized self-empowerment and independence.

“Enough is enough,” said DeAndre Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. “Our lives are at stake; we are at war, but we don’t even know we are at war and we are casualties of war, dying at an alarming rate.” Student Minister Muhammad challenged the community to choose self-determination and “gird up our loins” to develop independent systems to serve Black life.

Student Minister Muhammad said adverse conditions affecting Blacks in North Charleston are by design—a “systematic national, statewide local network of destruction” by the powerful. 

“We cannot allow another, 5, 10 or 15 years to pass, subjugating our children to the same madness and suffering that we have suffered under for the past 400 years,” he said.

Recognizing the cross section of people present, Student Minister Muhammad stressed uniting around self-interest.

Dot Scott, president of the NAACP Charleston branch and a 40-year resident of North Charleston, talked about racial profiling that foments division.

“I know about the racial profiling, I know about how officers doing things that if there’s not a video—it didn’t happen,” said Ms. Scott. She dismissed praise given city officials for quickly firing and charging former officer Michael Slager, who shot Mr. Scott as he ran away. Dot Scott said Feidin Santana deserves the respect for videotaping the killing.

“Somehow we are praising the administration for being quick. I’d like to praise the young guy for the video … had it not been for the video we wouldn’t have had none of you here. A lot of you wouldn’t have been out here; most of you would never have heard about it,” said Ms. Scott.

South Carolina State Senator David Mack III, who represents the district that includes North Charleston, said, “First and foremost we have to make sure that we don’t let anybody play games with us to separate us.”  “After the Walter Scott murder—and it was a murder,” he said, “I started getting calls from Republican colleagues in the House. They want to sign on to the Body Camera Bill.”

That’s “a good thing” but pressure must be kept up, he said.

“There’s two ways to effect change; one by voting, the other is how you spend your money,” said Rep. Mack.

Black Lives Matter Charleston proposed “Project We Are Watching You,” which calls for a culture of accountability by citizens following the police with cameras.

The activist group is calling for the community to support a citizen review board with subpoena powers to monitor policing. They announced plans for an upcoming forum in conjunction with other organizations to develop and present a “Peoples Platform” that political leaders would have to consider when looking for support.