You can’t have it both ways. That’s the first thing that came to my mind when a young man from my neighborhood asked if I’d write about an incident he had with Charleston police officers.
The 26-year-old man had been sitting alone about 1 p.m. on the fence of a Westside playground. Drug dealers are known to sell their wares in that area. I know the guy from the neighborhood where I’ve lived the past two years, and to the best of my knowledge, he’s never been involved in drug dealing, but he grew up in that neighborhood with others who are.
He claims that an officer in a patrol car passed him, circled the block, and came back. By that time another patrol car had arrived, and the two cars converged on him. Being street savvy, the young man said he immediately handed his wallet to one of the officers. The officer took it and spun the guy around, holding him in an arm lock with one arm behind his back.
While one officer was handcuffing him, the other unbuckled his pants and searched his crotch area and the crack of his butt. Apparently dealers hide drugs there. Personally, I’d be reluctant to use a substance that came out of someone’s butt crack, but the cops and dealers apparently know the drill.
The cops added insult to injury when they joked about calling in drug-sniffing dogs to check his butt crack. They seemed angry having found no illegal drugs and left him standing in his boxers in the midst of the crowd that had gathered. Standing there in the street, the young man said he felt humiliated and violated, knowing he was innocent of any illegal activity.
Several days later when I talked to him, he was indignant. The cops decided that because he is young and because he was in that spot he could be treated like a criminal. He was exposed in the most humiliating manner before neighbors who’ve known him since childhood.
I sympathize with the guy. His peers seem to respect him, and he always treats me with respect. It takes something out of your sails when you try to do the right thing and get jerked around anyway for the effort.
But as much as I regret what happened to him, I’ve got to admit I’m glad to see the police taking aggressive steps to deter drug dealing in my community. I’ve never witnessed a search to the extent of which the young man endured, but I’ve seen the cops line young guys up along a fence before.
As I’ve traversed the peninsula over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed the absence of street-corner drug dealers in many of the areas they normally occupy. The word on the street is that Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen is committed to reducing the rampant drug dealing in predominantly black neighborhoods.
Mullen has implemented several initiatives to reduce crime in the city in the year since he’s taken the helm of the Charleston Police Department. But despite misrepresentations during the recent city campaigns, most serious crime statistics are higher than over last year.
There have been five fewer homicides so far this year than last (17 in 2006 compared to 12 this year) and about 100 fewer motor vehicle thefts, but rapes, robberies, and burglaries all have increased.
Until the other day, I had not heard any complaints about the job police are doing to reduce crime in black neighborhoods. And despite the need for aggressive policing in crime-plagued neighborhoods, it’s important that law enforcement isn’t allowed to tread on the civil rights of its residents. While indiscriminate searches shouldn’t be tolerated, the black community has to realize if we are to see crime reduced in our communities we can’t have it both ways.