Jackson Bailes

Now is not the time for the state’s black legislators to be timid. Now is the time to demand much more than has been on the table in a long time.

For the generations from slavery through Jim Crow and into modern times, South Carolina’s African American population has been beaten down, physically, mentally and emotionally. Too many black South Carolinians are born into poverty and never get out of it, mostly because of a culture of white privilege plus governance stemming from a constitution written in 1895. Too many black men are warehoused in prison for doing things that white offenders get a pass on. Too many black children grow up in a state that only pushes for a “minimally adequate education.”

So after a week of state and national protests and riots seeking major transformations, the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus rightfully calls for change in a system that resists it. Members want passage of a long-proposed bill against hate crimes to hold accountable those who assault, intimidate, degrade and threaten others because of race, religion, color, sex or more. They want full funding and implementation of a state requirement for police to have and wear body cameras to promote accountability. And they want major police reform, such as better training, psychological testing and certification for police candidates, to protect citizen rights.

“We must stop racial profiling,” said Caucus Chair Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg. “We must review use-of-force standards. We must hold bad police officers accountable and ensure that a police officer fired for misconduct cannot simply become a police officer in another town down the road. Oversight is critical and community policing … must be adopted in jurisdictions across South Carolina.”

He and caucus members are spot on. But it’s not enough. It’s a pretty standard stuff to ask for what you’ve been asking for in the past.

Now is not the time to be modest. Demand more of the legislature to fix decades of injustice. Now is the time to ask for what you’ve dreamed of. Once and for all, let’s push the General Assembly forward to try to get rid of centuries of degradation, fear, deprivation and wrong:

Repeal the state’s Heritage Act. Stop preventing the removal of Confederate statues and memorials. Local communities, through home rule, should be able to take down homages to the lost cause of the Confederacy more than 150 years after the war ended. New Orleans did it. Birmingham did it. Richmond’s going to do it. Charleston now should remove the looming presence of John C. Calhoun from Marion Square. Put all of these monuments in a park. But let’s get beyond daily reminders of white supremacy.

Fix the Charleston loophole. It’s been five years since nine worshippers were murdered at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Stop dilly-dallying around with a common-sense proposal that would make it harder for nuts to get guns.

Fix education. Instead of allowing the status quo of a “minimally adequate education” for South Carolina’s children, insist upon a high-quality education for the 21st century. Failure to educate our children properly will continue problems ingrained in a plantation mentality.

Treat people fairly. Whether in planning where flood protection goes or plants are located, don’t pick on or neglect impoverished areas. Promote equity in public policy.

End predatory lending. Help curb the cycle of poverty by ending predatory lending practices that snare too many people in downward economic cycles from which they can’t escape.

Reform prisons. In a state that finally passed a law getting rid of the shackling of pregnant inmates, South Carolina has made some strides in prison reform, but it needs to do more. Pay guards better to keep prisoners safe. Require psychological evaluations of prison staff. Fund more alternatives for non-violent offenders. Stop relying so much on a system of bail that discriminates.

All South Carolina legislators need to seize this moment. Listen to what protesters are saying about injustice, learn from them and get to work promoting change. Kicking the can down the road, again, is not an acceptable option in any way, shape or form. Do your jobs.

Andy Brack is publisher of the Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.

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