Charleston needs Mayor Amy Goodwin to step up and get a handle on a city that is in tumult over recent events.
At a community meeting with more than 200 people attending Tuesday night on the city’s West Side, constituents demanded that Goodwin open a separate, independent investigation into an incident captured on cellphone video showing a city police officer striking a woman several times.
The video, taken Oct. 14, depicts the arrest of 27-year-old Freda Gilmore, who has special needs, according to her family. Gilmore is lying face down while Charleston Police officer Carlie McCoy attempts to apply handcuffs. CPD officer Joshua Mena is then seen entering the frame and landing several punches to Gilmore’s head. An internal investigation cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.
Police Chief Opie Smith, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, said that, while he would have handled the situation differently, the officers didn’t violate any use-of-force policies. But when asked by community members to provide or cite the policy, Smith waffled.
Goodwin said she would decide within 10 days whether to open an independent investigation. She also has said, if the current use-of-force policy allows what was depicted on that video, it needs to be changed to “reflect our community values.” That’s a good place to start.
At that same meeting, a small booklet from the police department entitled a “Community Resource Guide” was distributed.
Some of its contents were, to put it mildly, confusing. The guide contains a section titled “Tips for Avoiding Problems with Homeless People” that includes such advice as not to offer food or money to the homeless, because it will encourage more panhandling; securing or even locking dumpsters; and to “Restrict access to sidewalk overhangs, alcoves or other areas protected from inclement weather.” The phrase “Use caution when dealing with them” is also found.
The section acknowledges the homeless as “people” in its title, but the “tips” that follow seem to view them more as coyotes who wander in from the hills to scavenge when the weather turns.
That’s not to say homelessness in Charleston isn’t a serious issue. And it’s important to note the prevalence of the homeless, especially downtown, can make people feel unsafe at times. If a homeless person commits a crime, they need to be held accountable the same way anyone else would.
It’s a problem that needs to be addressed. But how to do that is, in itself, a problem that has slipped from the city’s grip over the past couple of years. Seeing such things in a handout from the CPD only makes the problem within a problem more obvious. Goodwin could do the right thing for the city by reinstating a message of compassion and a reasonable plan that cleans up the town without treating the homeless like plague bearers.
This is a defining moment for Goodwin’s first year as mayor. She has the opportunity to right the ship. Hopefully, she’ll take it.