Omar Brown's newfound recognition 

Blazing The Campaign Trail: What a difference a gas station shootout makes for low-key mayoral candidate

On Oct. 1, Brown was getting in his car to leave an El Cheapo gas station on Dorchester Road when a man who had felt slighted by Brown inside walked toward his car carrying a gun. Brown, an off-duty cop, exited his vehicle and gunshots were exchanged. Brown took one bullet in his upper thigh. The other man, parole violator Antonio Rivers, was shot several times, but made it to his bond hearing the next day.

A press conference late last week was expected to clear up some things (what happened inside, who fired first, did Brown shoot himself in the leg), but it seemed Brown is, himself, still a little fuzzy on the details. Easy questions like whether Rivers was the one who shot Brown get vague answers like, "I think the answer to that is evident." Police reports note an argument inside the store between the two men, but Brown said the attack was unprovoked, carefully noting "no words were exchanged."

The details get even fuzzier once the the two men meet again in the parking lot. Brown at first noted that Rivers "presented his weapon," that he warned Rivers to stop, and then, "shots began to ring out." When pressed on whether Rivers pointed his gun at him, Brown said the other man fired first — contrary to the police report. Brown's attorney, Craig Jones Jr. quickly interjected that everything happened very quickly and that details are still being determined.

"This was instantaneous," Jones said. "The distance was enough that it was an eminent threat." He stressed that Brown didn't shoot until the gun was raised against him. For now, the facts await a State Law Enforcement Division investigation, common in any shooting involving officers.

Omar Brown: The Candidate

Name recognition has gone up for Brown and his campaign since the shooting — a plus the candidate would certainly sacrifice if he could lose the hole in his upper thigh. But he still has a tough road to Election Day. Mayor Joe Riley is an institution in this town, and other opponents have much deeper pockets. But he says he's running to clean up Charleston. South Carolina is ranked just ahead of Washington, D.C., as the worst place for violent crime in the nation. Brown says Charleston carries some of that responsibility on its shoulders.

"This is bad for tourism. This is bad for the parents who are burying their children," he says. "We have communities pleading for help from the city government to clean up the drug problem and give them some help."

Born in South Carolina when his parents were just traveling through, Brown was raised in Chicago public schools where he prided himself on leading students to resist gangs. He later moved to D.C., spending his free time on the streets, encouraging young people to stay out of trouble. After starting his own business, Brown met former Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, who, after a long conversation with Brown, asked him to come here.

"We discussed a range of issues from the need for further education to the need for ethics in law enforcement," Brown says. "It seemed like a worthwhile adventure."

Though he was recently reassigned to patrol Daniel Island, Brown has spent most of his time on the force turning around troubled neighborhoods like Westchester and Bay Side.

"It was so violent we would send three police cars in," he says of Bay Side. "Two to handle the problem and one to watch the cars."

By the end of his time there, the officers could sit cars unattended in the community overnight without concern.

"We became a part of the community," he says. "We were not an occupying force. We became the essence of community policing."

He'd like to expand that philosophy with more officers patrolling on foot and on bikes so they can better know the neighborhood they're protecting.

"When an officer walks in your community, he gets to know that community," he says. "He's more on a personal level with the residents. He's moving a lot slower, he observes a lot more. … You establish a relationship between the law enforcement officers and the residents. Those are the types of relationships that solve crimes."

Brown's work on the force was rocked when his partner, Officer Dennis LaPage, was killed in the line of duty in January 2002.

"It shook the very foundation that I stood on," he says. "It was the first time in my life that I was literally destroyed. My resolve to come back and continue to do the work that we had set out to do was stronger than destruction."

Brown also wants to clean up the community (literally) with more street sweeping and improved relations with the College of Charleston to address residents' concerns with students. More programs are also needed to help citizens who want to help themselves, including parenting and GED programs and opportunities to assist needy homeowners with maintenance.

The June 18 sofa store fire that killed nine firefighters has embroiled the city in questions over whether changes should have been made years ago to better prepare and protect the department. Brown says the problems that have been identified should have already been addressed and that there are more concerns about equipment like jackets and hose nozzles that should be weighed.

"They fall (in) that era of dated leadership," he says. "Things need to be modernized."

The "dated" approach to governance is a theme across Brown's platform. "The current trend that the city is on shows that dated leadership is starting to falter," he says. "What worked in the past will not work in the future."

He also makes some allusions to a current system that is corrupt, inept, and insincere.

"The public is very educated in the sense of when you are sincere," Brown says when asked about Mayor Joe Riley's after-school programs. "If you attempt to fool them with meaningless programs and shadowy figures, they won't follow."

When it comes to issuing permits, including Brown's own unexplainable failed permit request to paint his East Side home, the candidate says he questions the logic and intent of denials.

"That's utilizing the city's power to destroy the citizens," he says. Charleston's mayor should be a strong advocate for improving schools, including advancing extracurricular programs to lure students back to school who have recently dodged class, says Brown.

"No one is giving free food out, so eventually (those students) will become a part of the population of the Charleston County jail," he says. As a city employee, Brown has a first-hand look at the need for better pay and improved insurance. He says payscales have climbed for new employees as long-serving staff wait in the wings and insurance costs make taking home a reasonable check hard to do.

When he was in the shootout, Brown had just began a vacation to campaign. We'll know in about a month whether he will be changing policy or changing back into his officer's uniform.

For more information on Omar Brown's campaign, visit www.omarbrown.com.


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