Protests against police violence against Black Americans crowded Charleston streets in May | File photo, Lauren Hurlock

A Charleston Police Department report released this week about the May 2020 protests downtown was decried as “untruthful and self-serving” by a reform group in a letter reacting to assessment Friday.

Members of the Charleston People’s Budget Coalition (CPBC) said they were “disturbed” by the “Strengthening Charleston” report presented to members of city council by local police on Tuesday.

The report was an internal assessment of the department’s overview of the protests on May 30-31, 2020 downtown.

During the presentation of the final after-action report during Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, Chief Luther Reynolds said the report was made to include the perspectives of officers, community leaders, business owners, residents, protesters and arrested criminal offenders.

“Numerous lessons have been learned, and areas of improvement were immediately addressed and utilized over the summer of 2020 to provide for many affected First Amendment demonstrations,” he said.”There are many things that have been ongoing since May 30-31 and continue.

“This involves collaborating with our community regarding current policies and how to get involved with police reform and the ongoing social justice movement.”

But, the coalition, made of 10 Charleston-area advocacy groups, said that the report and presentation paints an incomplete picture, centering on “property over people,” and fails to fully acknowledge the law enforcement reaction to the protest.

“CPD often touts itself as being ahead of the curve when it comes to police reform and public demands for changes in law enforcement,” the coalition said in the letter. “But, none of that has translated to substantive change for those most affected by police crimes.”

Reynolds and others present during the meeting said the outcome of the protests and Charleston’s police response was probably the best anyone could have hoped for.

“The close working relationship between the police department and fire department … really contributed to a good outcome, or the best outcome we could have hoped for in the city,” said Charleston Fire Department Chief Daniel Curia.

A portion of the meeting was reserved for public comment and criticism on the report. The majority of the criticism received during the public input period centered around the police response to the activities on May 31, according to Captain Tony Cretella.

“We reviewed extensive hours of body-worn camera video pertaining to the protests and riots that occurred, and any other videos supplemented to us by the community as well,” he said. Cretella went on to say only one such allegation, an officers failure to take a report, was sustained.

However, the coalition’s letter asserted that Charleston police dismissed or glossed over public comments and criticisms that were critical of the police response, and the voices of those who were arrested during protests were excluded altogether.

“What about the dozens of people leaving public comments demanding a transparent and equitable city budget?” the letter asked. “What about the indiscriminate police terror that occurred on the Eastside that has been consistently downplayed or outright denied? What about militarized tanks plowing into civilian vehicles?”

The coalition also called for the creation of a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) that would put the community in power to divest from CPD, reallocate funds to life-affirming services that improve quality of life for Charleston residents and decriminalize non-violent, victimless offenses.

According to the letter, the accountability group would be an elected oversight council made up of local residents with no conflicts of interest with the mayor, law enforcement or others associated with local political leadership and law enforcement.

“A CPAC would fundamentally change the tyrannical power dynamic that has existed historically between CPD and Black, brown and poor communities,” the letter said. “A CPAC would empower historically oppressed communities to contribute to building a more democratic society, whereas the City’s current Public Safety Committee and Citizen Police Advisory Council have proven to be insufficient and hold no institutional power.”

Tuesday’s presentation made no mention of the effectiveness or criticisms made in regards to new committees or groups formed to hold the police accountable in the wake of the protests.