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City Council, April 25

Discrimination or crime prevention?
City gets serious about West Ashley Gateway
Marc Knapp

It was quite a turnout. About 30 members or supporters of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) attended last night’s meeting to protest racial discrimination by the City’s police force. A much smaller number were at the meeting of two weeks ago. The tone of their speeches then was arrogant and cynical, and their claims seemed purposely exaggerated. We made no mention of them believing the policy of “stop and search” of which they complained, was a deterrent to crime. We still believe that this policy does reduce crime. It efficacy has been proven in cities like Baltimore and New York. But it was hard to dismiss some of the things they said last night.

It seems to us that some members of the City’s police force have gone too far. About half of the folks that spoke last night were black and some recounted their experiences after being stopped by the police. Their apprehension was usually for some minor matter, but in some cases led to fines that seemed unjustified. Some speakers noted that they were stopped a number of times on a single journey and subjected to searches.

There were many references to the CAJM meeting held the previous day to discuss the issue of discrimination. Five of the City’s Council members attended the meeting and those that didn’t were criticized. The CAJM is seeking an audit of the police actions. Mayor Tecklenberg, we understand, has promised an audit but not by a firm that has experience in this type of auditing. The CAJM wants an auditor with experience in racial profiling and discrimination.

We spoke to one of the Council members that attended the CAJM meeting. He told us that the cities of North Charleston and Charleston together over a two-year period stopped some 120,000 motorists as part of their “stop and search” programs. This was more than three times the level recorded in Columbia with a population is slightly larger than that of two cities. The implication of course was racial discrimination in the Charleston cities.

We do not believe that racial discrimination represents a “crisis” in our city’s police force as suggested by some of the speakers. We think that most officers would consider their actions as part of their job to prevent crime. But some officers have gone further than they should, it seems. I am a white male and I have to concede that if I were stopped frequently and searched by police, I would be offended and incensed. In that regard, I can sympathize with those that spoke last night. But at the same time one has to recognize that “stop and search” policies have reduced crime. Although black folk have been the focus of “stop and search”, the policy has surely reduced the crime rate in the community, and the black community particularly.

This issue is a hard one!!
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It was only a single simple sentence on the agenda but it generated a lot of discussion. The item was a resolution authorizing the Mayor to resort to eminent domain in acquiring a parcel of land in West Ashley. The issue was not why the City wanted the parcel, but the necessity to resort to eminent domain. Some councilmembers just didn’t like it.

The shopping center and in particular the old Piggly Wiggly 2.5-acre site that sits at the junction of Old Towne Road and the Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, has been subject to much discussion on Council. The owners of the Piggly Wiggly site originally wanted to develop a gas station. But the surrounding communities, the Mayor and Council were unhappy with such development. This was an entrance way to West Ashley and as such deserved something better than a gas station. It seems the owners have not come up with something satisfying to all parties and at the same time, the owners seemed impervious to any offer from the City to buy the site. The owners bought the site for $1.95 million in 2014.

It is the City’s intention to refigure the road system about the shopping center. The system presently is complicated and dangerous for motorists and pedestrians. To make it simple and safe will require the acquisition of the 2.5 acre parcel so the junction of Old Towne Road and Sam Rittenberg can be modified.

Some Council members spoke of creating a park out of the acquired land as well as reconfiguring the roads. But others thought this was a matter for future discussion. Council approved the resolution with. Council members Mitchell, Lewis, Wagner, Seekings and Wilson opposed.
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Normally annexations into the City generate little discussion. But the proposed annexation of 45 acres on Ashley Hall Plantation Road in West Ashley was an exception. The annexation was to receive its second reading last night, but a decision was deferred for reasons we don’t fully understand. But despite the deferral, Council had an issue - did the annexation given the developer more latitude to increase the density of housing units than that allowed within the County? And if so, was the annexation right?

Only one member of the public spoke about the annexation. He was opposed and suggested that the developer was looking to place 13 housing units per acre on the site. He noted that developments surrounding had lot sizes between one quarter and a half acre. City staff disputed that the developer was planning such high density. We thought staff said that the density would approximate two units per acre.

In our opinion, there was confusion over the issue and we would expect that when the item appears on the meeting agenda again, Council will be provided more clarity.

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