The purpose of a city should be to provide for the people inside its borders. When it comes to Black folks in Charleston, this has never been the case. Now is the time to ask ourselves if we should continue to plead for safety from a structure that keeps telling us it will not protect us, or if we should fight to take the power out of its hands.
According to members of the community, at least 10 people were injured in a shooting on the Eastside late Monday night. Cops arrived on the scene because of a noise complaint, and upon their arrival, gunfire broke out. This date marked the two year anniversary of police violence on the Eastside during the George Floyd uprisings. In the midst of the shooting, a 17-year-old-girl and at least nine adults were wounded, with four of them currently in critical condition. As an organization focused on the liberation of our people in the Lowcountry, it is always painful to hear about violence, especially being inflicted upon our youth.
But in the days that have followed the shooting, there has been a lot of bad faith speechmaking and narrative shifting coming not just from the City of Charleston and the cops, but supposed community leaders as well. Mayor Tecklenburg placed an emphasis on the danger that the cops faced in recent remarks. This has completely overshadowed the impact this incident has on the lives of members of our community. These remarks should not be read as a mistake or a slip of the tongue, but as a reminder of where Black people actually stand when it comes to the priorities of the City of Charleston. In the press conferences following the shooting, other elected officials and community leaders have gone on emotional rants and tirades that paint our youth as irredeemable animals.
But in moments like these, sad and unfortunate as they are, emotions and hot takes cannot lead our path forward. We should be able to analyze these situations from a position of truth, and here’s an inconvenient one for many–you can’t separate the violence displayed in our communities from the violence inflicted on our communities via the Charleston Police Department (CPD) and the City of Charleston.
We are the descendants of African people who were enslaved and brought to the Americas with the specific purpose of cultivating rice. That rice came to be known as “Carolina Gold.” Charleston became the richest city in colonial America due to enslaved African people growing Carolina Gold, yet had no access to the wealth they created. They were responsible for creating everything that we associate with, know and love about Charleston, from the landscape, to the architecture, cuisine, culture and more. Today, tourists from all over the world come to experience what Charleston has to offer. South Carolina brings in billions in tourism dollars each year and the descendants of those same enslaved Africans have little choice but to work in the industry for poverty wages with no access to the wealth it generates. Little to no substantive change has taken place. We are the descendants of African people who were enslaved and forcibly tied to the land here, and today we have almost no relationship to the land because we have been violently removed from it.
If we are going to talk about violence, then we have to be willing to start by talking about it at the root. Violence is not just when Black youth turn guns toward each other, it’s all the things that lead to that. Black people’s relationship to Charleston was born and bred from violence, so it should not be surprising that the violence continues today. Many of us know gentrification, the forced removal of people from their communities, first hand. But gentrification is a polite term being used to describe the violent expulsion of Black people from a city that we built. “Ethnic cleansing” is a more realistic term. A city where more than 40% of all African people trafficked to the US first arrived, has become a place where Black people virtually can not live. After decades of the city working hand in hand with real estate developers, from the Sea Islands to America Street, we have been defunded, threatened and bought off of the land we were forced to cultivate. You can not violently displace communities while simultaneously building luxury and tourism in the same place and not expect those contradictions to boil over.
Whenever Lowcountry officials and leadership describe intracommunal violence taking place, like the recent shootings, they always point back to “youth,” “drug” or “gang violence.” But this “leadership” has been completely unable to offer an analysis of what that “gang violence” is about or where it comes from.
Black people in Charleston are dealing with a situation where the city is squeezing us out of every corner. At their core, gang wars are always turf wars. They are wars over money as a means of survival. They are wars for resources. The masses of Black people in Charleston have no turf, they have very limited means of survival and they have almost no resources.
Violence is is baked into every aspect of our lives. 42% percent of Black children under age 18 are living below the poverty line in Charleston, compared to 11% of white children, according to the Avery Research Center report on racial disparities. Instead of being used as a tool for developing our youth, education in Charleston is used as a tool in real estate development and job placement with developers and companies citing dismal education statistics as reasons for not building or investing in certain local communities. We go to schools largely run by white women that aren’t from here, who criminalize us, punish us for using our mother tongue, and fail to teach us anything culturally relevant. Year after year, our youth afterschool and summer programs are straight up eliminated.
All around us, new, white owned business ventures are popping up. New restaurants and boutiques appear on King Street every month. But Black people in Charleston County earn 60% of what their white counterparts make. The black unemployment rate remains more than double the white unemployment rate. The lines of work typically made available to us are service related— we are the cooks, the reps that solve your problems at the call center, the maids, the babysitters, the sanitation engineers. We don’t own anything on King Street, but are expected to serve tourists with a smile while our children are criminalized for attempting to sell palmetto roses. We are expected to remain well behaved colonial subjects inside of a city that expands its wealth every day while 56% of the black population has low or no access to healthy foods. We are sick, dead and dying in this city. When will you begin to see this too, as violence?
We have nothing, but you know who does? The cops. Because the only way Charleston knows how to solve real problems that impact real people is by throwing money at the occupational force in our communities. 37-80 million dollars annually of Charleston County, the City of Charleston and North Charleston budgets go directly to law enforcement. According to the Building a Safe and Just Charleston report, police spend the majority of their resources arresting people for minor incidents which do not affect public safety, but do lead to mass criminalization and incarceration at a huge cost to taxpayers. Of the approximately 10 million arrests each year, only about five percent are for serious offenses like murder, rape, and aggravated assault. The remaining 95% are for low level offenses including marijuana possession, traffic violations, and unlawful assembly.
After starving us, robbing us of decent education, forcing us into dead end employment and substandard housing, we are pushed out of the city and into areas like North Charleston. North Charleston now retains the highest concentration of Black and Latine people in Charleston County, and in attempts to regulate it’s low wage, and undocumented Black and Brown populations, North Charleston is in full pivot toward becoming a police state. North Charleston Police Department (NPCD) has proposed a plan for a 24/7 real-time surveillance center that will monitor, in its own words, “every inch” of the city. The so-called Joint Operations Center will include the purchase of 745 surveillance cameras, 34 automatic license plate readers, a data dashboard for compiling surveillance feeds from privately and publicly owned cameras, and walls of video monitors according to a petition being circulated in opposition to the move. Consider how this kind of surveillance will impact undocumented communities who already live in a state fear in a city that does not even provide translation of its official communications. No one should be fooled into thinking that this Joint Operations Center (or any police funding) has anything to do with protecting our grandmothers or grandchildren. It’s about protecting the property and interests of the rich and powerful in a city where the divide between the rich and the poor has reached a breaking point.
You can’t separate the violence displayed in our local communities from the violent culture of the United States. We continue to emphasize our identity as African people as a reminder of why and how we even come to arrive in Charleston, en masse, to begin with. This is not a tale of “Black-on-black crime.” It is a story about the theft and looting of Africa. It’s a story about a country with almost 1,000 military bases around the world. It’s a story about a country that, to date, has provided the settler state of Isreal with $150 billion in assistance and weapons to continue wiping out Palestinian people from their homeland (and bringing a factory to Charleston this year to manufacture the weapons to do it). It’s a story about a country with an uncontrollable appetite for violence— from school shootings, to violent TV shows, video games and sports. Violence is at the core of the existence of the United States. Violence is at the core of the existence of Charleston. So as an oppressed nation within its borders, violence in our communities should not be surprising to anyone. What should be surprising is that we continue to look to those responsible for the violence for solutions to solving it.
Because our youth lack a political or revolutionary consciousness, they exhibit the same confusion as Black youth across the world— their guns are turned inward. But what would happen if Black people in Charleston had an outlet to turn the fight for power outward? The Lowcountry Action Committee is a Black led socialist organization dedicated to Black liberation through service, political education, and collective action in the Lowcountry. We are clear about the fact that nothing is coming to save Black people in Charleston (and the Lowcountry at large) but a grassroots, people-led movement that can completely overhaul the systems and structures that oppress us. That is how we define revolution. We believe that Black people have the responsibility to build, fund and support survival programs that will feed, clothe, educate and house us where the local government has already proven it will not.
In coalition with a number of other organizations in Charleston, we also recognize the need to build a citywide movement fighting for community control of the police. Community control is not the same as community policing. We are not interested in more Black cops or inviting cops to play basketball with our youth. We are done asking the city to reallocate funds that it purposefully has stolen from our communities. Community control, through the creation of a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), puts the power back into the people’s hands. Once the decision making power behind police hiring, firing, and most importantly the BUDGETS are in the hands of the people, we will have the power to take all that we need to begin building the kind of community resources and institutions to address the levels of violent American indoctrination that continues to plague our communities in the form of corruption, greed and violence. The truth is that as a colonized people, we are a terrified, traumatized community in need of deep healing and restoration. Beginning with taking control of the institution of policing, we must build a movement that will ultimately take back control of everything in our communities, including schools and hospitals, in a way that makes those institutions work for us, not developers.
The shootings aren’t going to stop because the violence that creates them isn’t going to stop. With gas approaching $5 a gallon, food prices on the rise, the average cost of rent in Charleston reaching $1,720, and no help in sight, things are going to get worse. The violence isn’t going to stop until we create the conditions to stop it. If Charleston’s only plan to address the violence is investing in more violence against us, it’s time for us to develop a plan to fight Charleston.
Please visit lctakesaction.com for information on how to get involved.