Kudos to Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin and Charleston Police Chief Opie Smith for getting together to discuss the police department’s use-of-force policy and refer a recent, disturbing incident to the FBI for further investigation.
But it appears the city is far from reaching a turning point.
At a joint news conference Thursday, Goodwin, Smith and community leaders acknowledged there had been a lack of communication and understanding of concerns regarding use of force and department policies.
Yet, this moment meant to show unity and understanding moving forward descended into chaos at the end of the meeting, when several police officers began ganging up on citizens who were claiming their concerns weren’t properly heard. To end such an event with politicians and police reiterating that citizens don’t understand what officers are put through and more public support of law enforcement is necessary — especially to a community that has been on the receiving end of or witnessed use of force — is deeply tone deaf. It shows little promise that officers have learned or are willing to learn anything from recent events.
Charleston police, by and large, have the community’s support and respect. There are few who don’t grasp the responsibility a police officer takes on every day, and most have tremendous appreciation for the courage that requires.
Keep in mind the incident that sparked this debate was a video capturing a 27-year-old woman with special needs, who was resisting arrest, taking several punches to the head from an officer while already prone. The community understands what police officers have to take into account in every incident they approach. The community also knows excessive force when it sees it, and has every right to expect trained police officers to react professionally to a given situation.
The way Thursday’s event ended, with community members claiming police who flanked them at the meeting “hijacked” the event, and the entire thing breaking down into arguments between officers and residents, makes it clear the disconnect is still very wide.
City officials characterized handling of earlier events as “miscommunication,” but it’s fair to ask at this point if anyone is even speaking the same language. The only way forward is admitting something has to change. For that to happen, everyone has to not only speak, but be willing to listen.