One man was killed and another wounded in a shooting at the corner of East Bay and Reid Streets in the City of Charleston on Saturday, April 18 at 11 am, under an overcast sky. These shootings took place steps away from one of the primary routes tourists use to reach this historic core of the old city. That morning the Post and Courier, the South's oldest newspaper published an article After Walter Scott's Death, Fight for Change Divides Activists
making the case that the local African American community of activists was fragmenting and dissolving as interest in the Walter Scott shooting predictably wound down.
I was in court with the officer who shot Walter Scott a few months ago. I've had many cases as an attorney involving the N. Charleston Police Department. I've lived in the Charleston area nearly my entire life. I've spent one Week in Paris and 99 hours in the camp of Occupy Charleston. I know there is a lot wrong with and missing from the community I've spent my life in where my work as an activist and an attorney. My work has helped bring us to the sad place we are. Better, as always, than a few more miserable Southern places and the miserable rest of the state.
The Post and Courier owns The Charleston Mercury weekly, progeny of the famous Newspaper that's special “The Union is Dissolved” edition was reproduced on the pages of your High School American History book.The editorials penned by their Editor during the Civil Rights movement are among the most arrogant of the Southern press of the period. The newspaper's editorials attacking Judge Waites Waring in the 1940s for supporting desegregation contain many of the same elemental assumptions behind the content of this article. Charleston is special in that the races have always gotten along here without real conflict under the wise guidance of it's etablished and mutually supporting black and white leaderships. See A Passion for Justice : J. Waties Waring and Civil Rights
The official story line, which Charleston's disintegrating blue blood elite and chaotic on the make business, tourism and development community longs to return to is that the system has handled the fallout from the Scott shooting (which it has done fairly responsibly). Now everything can now go back to the happy, quiet way it has always been here. The cries of “No justice, no peace” will soon fade back to the voices of a few weary and irrelevant activists. By the start of the Spoleto Festival everything will be back to normal in the City of Porgy and Bess.
Of course anyone who has actually paid attention to Porgy and Bess or the last 345 years of history here knows how delusional that hope is. Charleston, like Disneyland, is a tourism oriented destination which generates and largely believes it's own mythology. We're the city of Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind.
However there is a reality of real people with real problems. Race, violence, economic conflict, sexual tension and natural disaster have churned life in the Holy City since 1670. They'll continue to do so for the remaining hundred years or so left before the ocean covers King Street at High Tide. I confess to loving both the myth and the reality. I'm glad I won't live to see the City's wet and salty end in a hurricane which arrives at high tide after I'm laid to rest on historic Magnolia Cemetery.
Our family plot in the Greenhill section of Magnolia is only 5 feet above the current sea level, so if your grandchildren see my vault pop out of the sea bed and rise to float on top of the surf after the ocean rises, please knock a hole in it and let me sink. I would like to stay here. I wish I had left when I was younger for a more progressive place, but at 55 it's so late in the game now that I'll just fight it out here to the end.
An Enduring 345 year history of activism
This is the city where veterans of the American Revolution returned home and demonstrated against a political and economic system rigged to the advantage of wealthy slave owners. The rural militia, including armed slaves, rode into the city and shot them down in the streets.
This is the location of the Stono Rebellion, on of the nation's largest, most deadly slave insurrections which ended with a bloodly slaughter on the banks of the Edisto River. Many years later the more famous Vesey rebellion was ended before it started by arrests and executions.
This is the city where slaves and former slaves crept into the city from the Federally occupied sea islands during the civil war gathering intelligence on the Confederate Defenses. At the same time fire companies of free blacks saved the city from burning to the ground. After the war, Charleston saw a vigorous reconstruction.
In 1867 a brave former female slave's decision to board the new horse drawn street cars sparked two days of rioting for their desegregation which ended in a victory which lasted until separate but equal standards were established decades later.
There are dozens of more examples of how Charleston hasn't been the quiet garden of social harmony managed by it's noblesse oblige aristocracy the tour guides and tourists books tell you it's been. The history runs down to the Hospital Strike of 1969 and a sweeping county wide victory for Obama in 2008. We have a massive gay pride festival. Despite what the paper reports and the tour guides say, Charleston has never been a quiet garden ruled by people who wear seersucker suits and drink gin and tonics on their plantation verandas.
North Charleston, where the Scott shooting took place, is very different from Charleston. It has a sweatier, more military and more industrial recent history. It's been trying to remake itself since the huge Navy Base and Yard there was shut down in the 1990s. It's a majority minority city with poor areas, strong traditional neighborhoods and some hip new 'hoods like Park Circle.
The activists and North Charleston City Officials now involved in the current struggle over the Scott shooting are also involved in the fight for the mixed redevelopment results that expensive effort has achieved. The police crackdown, now over two decades old there, has as it goal to clear the streets of N. Charleston of crime and facilitate the city's economic and social transformation. The crackdown tactic hasn't been working. I won't attempt to analyze that here. It's important to know that the city and the activists have been fighting for the same thing, a better city. It has been a hard, long struggle with a lots of conflict. Neither side has surrendered to the other and neither side has surrendered to the criminals. The criminals haven't surrendered either.
Charleston, N. Charleston and my suburban Town of Mount Pleasant across the Cooper River are the urban engines of a blue county in a terrifying backward, blood red state. SC Gov. Nikki Haley, who tries to rule SC, is a woman who escaped a failing underwear store by paying Sarah Palin 200 thousand dollars for an endorsement event. Haley now wants to be Vice President. Not even Charleston's conservative aristocracy wants to be part of South Carolina.
On Memorial Day weekend, thousands of black motorcycle club members will arrive at Myrtle Beach (SC's Tourist Destination for people with no taste of all races) for Black Bike Week where Gov. Nikki and a militarized army of police officers will be waiting for them. While the magnitude of the disaster can't be accurately predicted, nothing good is going to happen. We have no way of knowing who will shoot at whom under what circumstances. Three civilians were killed there last year by an unknown shooter, probably with a rifle. We do know that under the right circumstances, Gov. Nikki can make herself into a national right wing hero sitting on an armored vehicle with a gun like Boris Yeltsen in Moscow, saving SC from the black motorcycle gangs. If she can do that, Haley will be positioned to follow Scott Walker into DC for a new house at the Naval Observatory or a cabinet position.
Thank God, I'll be in Charleston watching operas and listening to Chamber music at Spoleto between going to activist meetings and actions that week. Last weekend, Black Lives Matter, or some variant,marched into the pricy High Cotton Sunday brunch and read a list of the black people killed by cops in the United States. Later they marched, uninvited, through the 2nd. Sunday street fair. It's going to be an interesting Spoleto.
The Struggle Against the Struggle for Peace, No Justice
If you read today's article, the Post and Courier will inform you, in more detail than it traditionally invests in the stuff it inserts between advertising, of every rift and dispute in the local African American Peace and Justice community. They cheerfully talk about declining participation, people leaving town and how the young hell raisers have, have not and should defer to their trusted elders. Dot Scott of the NAACP wants more attention. The kids demand too much. It's going to be just like the Civil Rights movement with Malcomb X and Martin Luther King where the good, peaceful guy won.
Of course they both ended up dead, which is a poor happy ending by most standards. The Civil Rights movement didn't end. Neither did injustice and killings of all kinds, but It's going to be OK because nothing is really going to change.
I know most of these activists. I'm the middle aged white guy who always shows up with too much literature talking about public transit. I have my own demonstration next Thursday because our Congressman Mark Sanford (the hiking to Argentina former Lovernor of SC) is trying to end all federal funding for public transit in the entire country. If congress doesn't pass a transportation bill by May 31 one third of the funding for public transit in the US will disappear. 30 million people ride buses and trains to work in the United States. Most of the people riding those vehicles and most of the people operating them are minorities and women.
I care about those minorities and women. So do a lot of other white people here. However the Post and Courier article suggests that white people supporting a black cause delegitimatizes it. If one black leader and two white activists show up for a dull planning meeting, that's a failure. When 200 people show up for an event with Jesse Jackson on Thursday, after the uprising is supposed to be over, they leave that out of the article because it violates the story line.
Charleston is changing. This process has been taking hold since Hurricane Hugo tore the old, delicate city I now miss apart in 1989 and the Navy Base closed a few years later. The global economy has landed with the brutal "money now" weapons which blast everything kind, decent and old away. The people buying 200 year old historic homes in the city to be used as part time trophy houses six weeks a year don't even know the once important local social clubs which exclude them exist. The internet and an upstart weekly City Paper have dissolved the hold on public attention and information once possessed by a traditional media controlled by a handful of local aristocrats.
The most famous Charlestonians of the moment inhabit the detestable Bravo Network reality show Southern Charm, an adolescent paean to alcohol and sex. The show is presided over by disgraced former State Treasurer T-Rav (who went to prison for cocaine), his 30 year younger girlfriend and their beautiful new baby whose two christenings are the only Christian church sacrament her parents have shared. The people horrified by the agitation on one side and Southern Charm on the other dream of running the city again. They read the Post and Courier to obtain comfort the way sleepy children anticipate a bed time story.
Has the revolution arrived in Charleston? Will the activists unite? Can Boeing be unionized, or will they be allowed to pay $10 an hour less for local hires than people they bring in from their airplane factories out west. This is a plane factory SC taxpayers paid a billion dollars in subsidies to be built here. Will the new effort to make the Medical University finally address the issues they managed to defy the Civil Rights activists on during the Hospital Strike in 1969 finally achieve results for the people who mop, clean and serve at the area's largest plantation? Will we build a new regional rapid transit system or will the CARTA transit system go broke and slash more bus routes? Who will be elected Mayor to replace Joe Riley, now winding up 40 years in office? Will the people spending a hundred bucks on a tourist brunch at High Cotton be allowed to munch their cantaloupe in peace?
While SC is dominated by retrograde Conservatives, they've never had a solid grip on Charleston. With Hillary seeking the presidency, the Koch Brothers don't want to sink a lot of cash in a state they mostly already own. The local racists don't have much of an appetite for nose to nose street confrontations in the age of the internet. Of course today, everything can change overnight. I've never seen demonstrations and rallies for ten days in a row here before. I've never seen Five national TV networks with cameras pointed at Thomas Dixon or Poppa Smurf at the same time, each with a cable connected directly to a live satellite feed.
Future Struggle in an Old City
Local activists know the struggle will go on here for about another hundred years or so before Charleston either wins or loses its struggle with the rising sea. A racially diverse, somewhat divided activist community will continue to work for change with its new internet tools and its new national connections. The huge meeting hall the Longshoremen's Union built to make real work for change possible here is where you can find us working together and fighting each other nearly every night of the week.
The Post and Courier will continue its centuries long practice of assuring everyone that the commotion is over and everything is OK long past the point where their saying it makes it so. They will still be at it when children have go to the Charleston Museum to see what a daily edition made with ink and newsprint looks like.
Scott's shooting won't be forgotten. The attempt to put things back where they were will be ever less successful. Those reading Post and Courier articles telling them otherwise can enjoy that delusion. The hard fight for a better community here in Charleston will go on. At 4 pm, Sunday April 19, there is a four hour gathering at the Longshoreman's Hall to prepare to continue that struggle.