Friday, December 8, 2017

History Commission approves toned-down version of Calhoun plaque

Board removes reference to "plague of racism"

Posted by Adam Manno on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 5:18 PM

Vice President John C. Calhoun's statue looms over Marion Square - CHELSEA HAINES FILE PHOTO
  • Chelsea Haines file photo
  • Vice President John C. Calhoun's statue looms over Marion Square
On Wednesday, Charleston's History Commission approved a plaque designed to provide context for the Marion Square John C. Calhoun monument that omits language critical of the Confederacy and racism.

Members of the commission voted unanimously to remove mentions of the "crimes against humanity," the "plague of racism," and the "folly" of political leaders like Calhoun, who predated the Confederacy, but whose ideals laid the groundwork for secession.

The phrase "crimes against humanity" proved to be especially contentious for some of those present at the last History Commission meeting on Nov. 1. David McCormack, who sits on the panel, questioned the possible anachronism of the phrase, which came into common parlance decades after the current monument was completed in 1896.

At the same meeting, members delayed discussing the introductory language of the plaque, which has now been entirely re-written. Commission members opted against superlatives when describing Calhoun's contribution to American canon. Described in previous drafts as a "brilliant" political theorist, he is now referred to simply as "a" political theorist.

Also at that meeting, mentions of the "Confederacy" were replaced with a nod to "white supremacy" after it was decided that celebration of Calhoun represented acceptance of the ideology, not necessarily of the failed state. Calhoun died 10 years before South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. He commemorated by the Confederate States on a postage stamp (as were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson).

In a speech on February 6, 1837, Calhoun said of slavery:
I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good–a positive good.
The Heritage Act, a state law passed in 2000, prohibits the removal of any Confederate flags and of any monuments commemorating the Confederacy or the civil rights movement without a two-thirds vote by the state Senate and House. Mayor Tecklenburg said in August that he opposed the removal of any monuments amidst activists calling for the statue to come down.

The Calhoun monument was vandalized in 2015 weeks after the racially-motivated shooting of nine worshippers at Mother Emanuel AME Church, which sits just a block away.

The plaque's new text requires final approval by City Council. Council members are set to meet on Monday.

The new text reads as follows:
This monument to John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), erected in 1896, was the culmination of efforts begun in 1858 to commemorate his career. It was erected at a time, after Reconstruction, when most white South Carolinians believed in white supremacy, and the state enacted legislation establishing racial segregation. These ideas are now universally condemned.

Calhoun served as Vice-President of the United States under two presidents, as U.S. Secretary of War, as U.S. Secretary of State, as a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. A political theorist, he was the author of two important works on the U.S. Constitution and the Federal Government.

A member of the Senate’s “Great Triumvirate,” which included Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Henry Clay of Kentucky, Calhoun championed states’ rights and nullification, the right of an individual state to invalidate a federal law which it viewed as unconstitutional.

Unlike many of the founding fathers, who viewed the enslavement of Africans as “a necessary evil” possibly to be overcome, Calhoun defended the institution of race-based slavery as a "positive good."

The statue remains standing today as a reminder that many South Carolinians once viewed Calhoun as worthy of memorialization even though his political positions included his support of race-based slavery, an institution repugnant to the core ideas and values of the United States of America.

Historic preservation, to which Charleston is dedicated, includes this monument as a lesson to future generations of the importance of historical context when examining individuals and events in our state's past. 

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The Agenda: Growth with some pain points; Confidential nuclear report; Metal detectors in public schools?

Congestion and housing among issues in recent Chamber report

Posted by Sam Spence on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 11:25 AM

  • Flickr user shutteredphotog

P&C has released a confidential 2011 report that detailed early faults in the ill-fated VC Summer nuclear project.

Charleston-area state Rep. Wendell Gilliard prefiled a bill last month to have walk-through metal detectors installed at all public schools in the state. Source: WBTW

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is also the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, has been pushing to preserve tax breaks that could be done-away with in the Republican tax reform bill. Source: Politico

A new report by the Charleston Metro Chamber and a regional development group shows that while average annual pay is up 36 percent in Charleston over the past decade, employees cannot find housing near their jobs. Source: P&C

A larger Carnival cruise ship, the Sunshine, will be stationed in Charleston beginning in 2019. Source: P&C

Myrtle Beach-based journalist Issac Bailey for CNN: "Why partial justice for Walter Scott isn't nearly enough"

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Emotions run high, questions linger after sentencing of former police officer Michael Slager

Fact vs. Fiction

Posted by Adam Manno on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 9:04 PM

Walter Scott's mother, Judy, holds up a photo of her late son as she walks to the media tents pitched outside of the courthouse in downtown Charleston. - ADAM MANNO
  • Adam Manno
  • Walter Scott's mother, Judy, holds up a photo of her late son as she walks to the media tents pitched outside of the courthouse in downtown Charleston.
The emotional, and often long-winded, sentencing proceedings for former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager ended Thursday, Dec. 7 in a sentence largely expected by experts.

Slager will spend 20 years in federal prison and will be under supervised release for two years after that. U.S. District Judge David Norton also ordered mental counseling and treatment for the 36-year-old father.

On April 4, 2015, Slager stopped 50-year-old Walter Scott for a broken brake light. Scott fled the scene, afraid because he owed child support payments, according to his family. Slager shot Scott in the back five times as he ran away. A bystander caught the shooting on video. Slager pled guilty to the federal charge of violating Scott's civil rights in May as part of a plea deal that got him off the hook for state murder charges, which were to be re-issued after his 2016 state murder trial ended in a hung jury.

"Judging by the history and characteristics of the defendant, he has lived a spotless life," Norton said before adding that, "Just punishment is in the eye of the beholder. It's a zero-sum game."

On Thursday morning, Norton agreed with federal prosecutors in announcing that Slager had indeed committed second-degree murder in shooting Scott and obstructed justice when lying to SLED officers in the days following the killing. (Slager left out details from his meeting with SLED that were later brought up as defenses in the state federal trial.)

Slager's defense team brought in experts in audio and video to try to prove that a ground fight took place between Slager and Scott. Led by noted Charleston attorney Andy Savage, the defense argued that such a fight might have led to Slager fearing for his life and shooting Scott until the threat ceased. Arguments about everything from the conditions in jail, to Slager's celiac disease, to his vulnerability to harassment were brought up in an effort to lessen the sentence.

Prosecutors, dispatched by the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, spent the week driving home their main point: the fact that Scott can clearly be seen on video running away from Slager before, during, and after Slager shot him to death.

"They claimed and continued to claim that the defendant was acting under self defense," said prosecutor Jared Fishman. "Now they are taking position that this was the heat of passion. The defense wants to get a reduced sentence while continuing to claim that this was all Scott’s fault."

The sentencing was preceded by emotional testimony from members of both the Scott and the Slager family.

"It was so surreal that this happened that morning," said Walter Scott's mom, Judy, while holding back tears. "I said you know how the North Charleston police does, seemed like they just picked at you for any reason."

She said she forgave Michael Slager.

"I pray for you that you will repent and let Jesus come in your life because God loves us all," she added.

Statements from the defendant's mother, father, and wife were heard by the court before sentencing.

Slager's wife Jamie turned around to address the Scott family with tears in her eyes.

“I think about you every day and I always will,” she said. “My heart breaks knowing that things cannot be changed.”

Handcuffed and dressed in a striped white and gray jumpsuit, Michael Slager expressed regret for his actions on April 4, 2015.

“With my actions that day, Walter Scott is no longer with his family, and I’m responsible for that,” he said. “I wish I could go back in time to change the events, but I can’t, and this is a tragic situation.”

Outside of the courthouse, Walter Scott's older brother, Anthony, said that it took him the longest out of anyone in the family to forgive Michael Slager.

"We feel like we have gotten justice today, we feel that we have moved on," Scott said. "At the end of the day, God had a ram in the bush, and his name was [Feidin] Santana, who was brave enough to film this horrendous act that was done to my brother."

Activist and pastor Thomas Dixon says North Charleston has not taken enough responsibility for the shooting. The city settled with the Scott family for $6.5 million in October 2015.

"I'm happy where we're at right now," Dixon said regarding Slager's sentencing. "I'm disappointed in the state and I'm disappointed in the city of North Charleston. After they terminated [Slager], the only comments we would get were, 'Well, it's in SLED's hands.'

"A pretext stop is really what led to this whole murder," Dixon continued. "$1.57 is what led to his brother's death. I hope those eight shots heard around the world ... I pray that this will be a serious learning position for North Charleston and for our policing in South Carolina period."

Dixon, a former Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, is one of the many voices in the African-American community calling for a release of Department of Justice findings from a review of the North Charleston Police Department conducted after the Scott shooting. The department, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ended reviews of local law enforcement agencies in September.

"I think it must be something else to why they would not release that," Anthony Scott said while walking back to the nearby Mills House hotel after the sentencing. "If there's nothing to hide, there is no reason to hide anything."

A running tally by The Washington Post has found that American officers have killed 917 people in 2017 so far. In 2015, The Post also published a review of convictions for officers prosecuted for using deadly force since 2005. The paper found that most officers were white, while most victims were Black, and that 21 of the 54 officers prosecuted were not convicted. Almost all of the victims were confirmed to have been unarmed. An updated look at the 54 officers shows that, of the 19 whose cases were still pending in 2015, only one case remains pending. Twelve were either found not guilty or had their charges dismissed, bringing the updated list of officers not convicted to 33.

One was sentenced to a year of house arrest. Four were federally charged and sentenced to a range of two to 10 years in prison. One was federally charged with planting a weapon in October. Slager received the harshest sentence of them all, at 20 years. The officers in the pending list who ended up serving prison time were all charged in federal court.

The Department of Justice issued a press release immediately after the Dec. 7 sentence was handed down. Sessions offered his condolences to the Scott family and stood by his prosecutors' work.

"Law enforcement officers have the noble calling to serve and protect," Sessions said. "Officers who violate anyone’s rights also violate their oaths of honor, and they tarnish the names of the vast majority of officers, who do incredible work. Those who enforce our laws must also abide by them — and this Department of Justice will hold accountable anyone who violates the civil rights of our fellow Americans. On behalf of the Department of Justice, I want to offer my condolences to the Scott family and loved ones."

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College of Charleston area gets fancy, updated street signs

Everywhere a Sign

Posted by Sam Spence on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 4:16 PM

  • CofC Today
You probably use downtown street signs all the time. But you might not realize that many of the signs downtown also bear the name of the neighborhood and unique design touches. Well today, the College of Charleston area started getting some new signs marking the ever-expanding Cougar quarter.

The new maroon signs with white writing also bear the College's new-ish Gil Shuler-designed logo. The city worked with the College to design and approve the new signs.

In a post on CofC Today today, school officials said the signs were going up at several intersections in the area: Calhoun at St. Philip, St. Philip at George, St. Philip at Liberty, St. Philip at Wentworth, Wentworth at Glebe, Wentworth at Coming, Coming at George, Coming at Bull, Coming at Calhoun, and George at Glebe. We first spotted the signs on Twitter when city Transportation Department director Keith Benjamin excitedly posted a pic of one after getting a first-look.

CofC and Benjamin say that the updated signs are part of efforts to better identify the College area.

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Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager sentenced to 20 years in Walter Scott shooting death

Initial criminal trial ended in hung jury

Posted by Sam Spence on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 12:20 PM

Video showed officer Michael Slager opening fire on Walter Scott - FILE
  • File
  • Video showed officer Michael Slager opening fire on Walter Scott
Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager will spend 20 years in jail, a federal judge in Charleston ruled today.

Slager pled guilty to violating Walter Scott's civil rights in 2015 when he shot and killed the 50-year old Coast Guard veteran as he attempted to run following a traffic stop off Remount Road in North Charleston. Scott, who was unarmed, was likely worried about unpaid child support when he decided to flee, his family has said.

A year ago, Slager's initial criminal jury trial ended in a mistrial. Over the summer Slager agreed to plead guilty to federal civil rights violations in the shooting death, avoiding a local retrial.

This week's proceedings have centered on prosecutors and defense attorneys' interpretations of the severity of Slager's actions, with the feds standing by their position that his actions constituted second-degree murder. Slager's attorneys challenged the timeline of events leading up to the shooting, casting doubt on the assertion that Slager acted unnecessarily.

In impact statements given before the court today, members of Walter Scott's mother forgave Slager for his role in her son's death. Denise Scott recounted fond memories of her late brother-in-law, particularly his dancing and his looks.

This story is developing, check back soon.

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