The intersection of South and America streets was the site of a mass shooting May 31 in which nine people were shot | Photo by Rūta Smith

Eastside residents, community activists and city leaders appear to be at odds over what to do about gun violence in the wake of a May 31 shooting in which nine people were shot and three others were injured.

The shooting followed other high-profile May shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. More mass shootings followed nationally during the June 4 weekend that resulted in at least 17 deaths and 62 injuries, including one death in Summerton, S.C.

Last Tuesday, at a press conference, Charleston mayor John Tecklenburg railed against the culture of gun violence that’s blanketing the nation: “It’s not just South Street; it’s not just the Eastside. It’s the City of Charleston; it’s our region; it’s the United States of America … thoughts and prayers are necessary, but they’re not enough. We need to pray to God for guidance to give us the action steps to keep this community safe.”

The mayor proposed eight action steps to be taken in the wake of this shooting to curb gun violence in Charleston:

  • Make more arrests in relation to the Charleston incident;
  • Create an accountability measure for landlords;
  • Reiterate the city’s request to the legislature to establish a graduated penalty system for repeat gun-use offenders;
  • Continue enforcement of laws already on the books;
  • Promote responsible gun ownership — he said hundreds of guns are stolen from unlocked cars every year;
  • Shut down excessive unpermitted events in public spaces; 
  • Review traffic measures in the Eastside neighborhood, specifically along South Street; and 
  • Review the city’s response to the May 31 shooting.

But these action steps come up short, some say.

“There was no talk about real-time solutions,” said the Rev. Thomas Dixon, pastor of a Mount Pleasant church and lifelong Charlestonian. “You’ve got to get to the root of the problem, and we can’t let the talking heads say things like, ‘Oh, it’s a mental health problem,’ because that’s not it … Until we address this as a gun problem, first and foremost, we are going to continue to have this issue. Too many guns leads to more gun violence. It’s just that simple.” 

He later added, “We need to have stronger penalties for those caught possessing illegal weapons. That sentiment is echoed even by our governor, who said to get him a bill saying how to do that, and he’s going to sign it. But I’ve been preaching that message for at least 10 years.”

Charleston Chief of Police Luther Reynolds agreed guns are at the heart of the problem, but the roots are deeper.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this,” he said. “Only occasionally is it about arrest and enforcement. It’s a huge problem, and it isn’t something that’s going to be fixed overnight. You have to look at the whole problem, and it’s a societal, cultural issue. It’s tied to the opioid and fentanyl crisis. There’s a connection of all this to gangs and retaliation … Mental health is an issue … Gun violence is more than just a criminal justice problem.”

Dixon said education and economic opportunity also needed to be considered in dealing with the issue. But he said he feels city leaders have dropped the ball when it comes to working with the community in addressing these issues as well. 

“Under Reynolds and Tecklenburg, somewhere along the way, they decided to sit themselves on one side of the bridge-building process and put members of the community on the other side,” he said. “It’s their way or no way. We’re never going to have a solution to this problem if we continue along that path.”

City officials and police, however, have met with the Eastside Community Development Corporation (ECDC), for what Reynolds called “a really productive conversation” on the next steps forward.

“They really have a vested interest in the community,” Reynolds said. “We worked on solutions we can tackle together so this doesn’t become just a police-centric solution.” 

The ECDC is a nonprofit established in 2003 to support safe growth and development in the Eastside.

More inclusivity needed

To Dixon though, there’s still a rift between the community that city leaders communicate with, and the community that actually exists in the Eastside. And, he said, the dividing line is those who are from the community, and those who moved in later.

“We can’t fix this problem talking with newcomers — the ones who are a part of the gentrification of the Eastside claiming they are the new voice of the community,” he said. “They don’t have a clue about the community they moved into … you have to ask the people born and raised in the community.”

As an example of these vocal newcomers, Dixon specifically pointed to Eastside resident Steve Bailey, a Post and Courier columnist who hosted a community press conference June 1.

Bailey disputed Dixon’s comment, saying: “I am first an Eastside resident. We have owned our house for 16 years and lived here for three years … I was raised in Charleston — born on East Bay Street — and grew up in Mount Pleasant.”

Bailey spent 30 years in Boston with The Boston Globe and more than seven years in London working for Bloomberg News. He has been back in Charleston for more than six years.

“There is a lot to do and it is way overdue,” Bailey told City Paper. “The Eastside needs the help of the city and the cops. But more than anything, Eastsiders need to say this is not acceptable. We want something better, and we are ready to do the work to get it.”

For his part, Reynolds said he recognizes the importance of community engagement, and how much work is still left to do. 

“We know we can always do better, and we know we can always do more,” he said. “Whatever we do, it has to be together.” 

But, he added: “The police can’t provide everything needed to address this — mental health services, domestic violence — these are all areas we need to work with other organizations. I don’t think there’s really any limit on what we can accomplish working together.”

Investigation is ongoing

Charleston police charged Tahira McGee,
50, of North Charleston with second-degree assault and battery and resisting arrest. Police also charged Ayesha Saleemah McGee, 26, of North Charleston with third-degree assault and battery, and arrested Maurice Antonio Malloy (address unavailable), 35, for disorderly conduct after returning to the scene later in the week.

Police recovered no guns from the scene of the shooting on South Street, police spokesman Elisabeth Wolfsen said, but they collected multiple varying calibers of fired cartridge casings. Authorities have made no arrests directly relating to the shooting, but the investigation is ongoing, and detectives are continuing to follow up on leads. 

Anyone with information is asked to contact the on-duty central detective at (843) 743-7200 or Lowcountry Crime Stoppers at (843) 554-1111 if they wish to remain anonymous.

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