Sometimes the sole purpose of marking a new year is to celebrate the end of the old one. As for what constitutes a true annus horribilis, 2016 had more than its share of tragedy and turmoil, but most of you probably remember saying the same thing at the close of 2015. So here we are, on the tail end of two rough years, just hoping for a bit of a breather. Unfortunately, the time to catch our breath and clear our heads remains at a distance. The tragedies of 2015 reached the courtroom in 2016, but the final round of justice belongs to the new year. Our new leaders have been elected, but what they do with that power has yet to be seen. So as we reach the eve of possibly another trying year, what is there to do? Well, if you drink, have a drink. If you sing, belt a tune. Do whatever you need to do to get ready for 2017. Because we’re going to need everybody at their best if we want to make it a decent year.
Mistrial declared in the trial of Michael Slager
For more than five weeks, the state trial of former North Charleston officer Michael Slager dragged on as the death of Walter Scott and the events surrounding it were examined time and time again. By the time the trial started, it had been 18 months since North Charleston became the center of national attention and Scott’s name was added to the growing list of African-American men who lost their lives during interactions with members of law enforcement. At the center of Slager’s trial was the eyewitness video, which showed the officer open fire, striking Scott five times from behind. Frame by frame, expert witnesses pored over the shaky footage. Attorneys for both sides hoped that after enough viewings some clear image of Slager’s guilt or innocence would shine through. But that was not what happened. After 22 hours of deliberation, the jury remained deadlocked. A mistrial was declared. Now, with Slager’s federal trial possibly beginning in the spring, the community and families involved continue to wait. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has announced her plans to retry Slager in state court as soon as possible, but this story is far from over.
“While I cannot overstate our disappointment that this case was not resolved, I commend those who sacrificed so much time, energy, and effort to serve on this jury,” said Wilson following the mistrial. “We will try Michael Slager again. We hope the federal and state courts will coordinate efforts regarding any future trial dates, but we stand ready whenever the court calls.”
North Charleston police undergo review
The demand for answers following the shooting of Walter Scott proved to be too much for the North Charleston Police Department to ignore, although the voices of many of those in the community continue to go unnoticed. In May, it was announced that North Charleston would become the 11th city in the United States to undergo a policing review by the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). In a process that is expected to last a little more than two years, the COPS Office is enlisting contractors to conduct interviews with officers, community leaders, and citizens, compile information, and prepare recommendations for improving police practices in the city. But even with the Department of Justice looking into the local law enforcement agency, many are still calling for something more than a voluntary examination of day-to-day practices in North Charleston. Following Scott’s death, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the North Charleston branch of the NAACP sent a formal request to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, calling for a pattern-or-practice investigation of North Charleston officers and alleging unconstitutional policing in the city. Unlike a pattern-or-practice investigation, which examines civil rights violations and enables the Department of Justice to force departments into reform, agency participation is voluntary under the current arrangement. For those calling for more transparency and accountability on the part of the city, the Department of Justice review and proposed Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Community and Police Relations just isn’t enough to solve the crisis of trust in the community.
Dylann Roof found guilty in Mother Emanuel murders
There was never any argument regarding Dylann Roof’s guilt. Even those tasked with representing the 22-year-old white supremacist in court were quick to acknowledge that he was the gunman who entered Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015, and killed nine parishioners as they bowed their heads to pray during evening Bible study. But before a verdict could be handed down, the families of the victims, the survivors, and every person in the courtroom had to relive what happened that night. Some family members found answers to questions that had long lingered in the back of their minds regarding their loved ones’ final moments. Others in the courtroom gained insight into the racial hatred that Roof carried with him into the church. In his journal, online manifesto, and videotaped confession, the killer outlined the lessons in white supremacy that he had scrapped together from the internet. And while Roof was found guilty on all 33 counts of a federal indictment that included hate crime charges, many of the ideas that led him to commit such a crime remain out there, festering in the hearts and minds of many Americans. The next phase of Roof’s trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 3, 2017. The same group of jurors will return to decide whether Roof will spend the rest of his life in prison or be executed for his crimes. But regardless of the jury’s final decision, Roof will remain an example of what happens when the hatred and discrimination that many people face every day goes unchecked.
Donald Trump takes South Carolina and the White House
The election of a new president is expected to be the biggest news event of the year, but perhaps no major campaign in recent history has felt as divisive as the one leading up to Donald Trump’s victory in November. It was less than a year earlier that the then-Republican frontrunner stood in front of a crowd on the Yorktown and called for a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Now Trump stands ready to be sworn in as the nation’s leader. After claiming almost 55 percent of the votes in South Carolina and a win in the electoral college, Trump’s place as America’s next president is cemented. What remains unknown is what he’ll do with that power.
Raven Saunders and the Rio Olympics
As with the presidential election, the Olympics emerge every four years to capture the world’s attention. While there was perhaps a bit more green pool water, invisible bacteria, and Ryan Lochte than most would prefer, the Rio Olympics did offer a few inspiring stories — one of those being the rise of Burke grad Raven Saunders to the international stage. While Saunders failed to claim a medal in women’s shot-put, she lived up to lofty expectations of those watching at home. Gathered in the auditorium of her former high school, dozens watched as the hometown favorite held her own against the best in the world. Earning a fifth-place finish, Saunders remained focused on the next four years, after which she’ll have the opportunity to once again represent her hometown and her country in the quest for gold. Saunders stands as a bright light in a weary world.
Hurricane Matthew makes a pass
Charleston avoided another near disaster as Hurricane Matthew made its way up the South Carolina coast. While Gov. Nikki Haley estimated that more than 350,000 coastal residents fled upstate following an early call for evacuation, many Charleston residents chose to stick it out. Barricaded behind sheets of plywood and mountains of sandbags, those remaining waited as Matthew battered the Lowcountry with continued strong winds. Downtown streets flooded, as they do, but the city remained. As the waters receded and residents returned, many were lucky to have been spared from the level of destruction experienced the previous October, when the so-called “1,000-year-flood” reached far beyond the Holy City, ravaging cities and towns up into the Midlands.
Transgender students demand fair and equal treatment
From school board meetings to the Statehouse, transgender students all across South Carolina took a stand in 2016, calling for nothing more than to be treated like all the other kids. While some state leaders sought to stoke the fear and panic that too many still hold for the LGBTQ community, these students who simply wanted the same opportunities as their fellow classmates found themselves forced to navigate a legislative minefield. A person’s high school years are difficult enough for anyone to weather. Imagine doing it when your day-to-day activities are being hotly debated by a state Senate subcommittee. For those who try to discredit the younger generation, remember that there are kids barely in their teens taking a stand against some of the most powerful people in the state. And remember that this is happening all across the country.
Mixson gets a soggy farewell
Residents of the Flats at Mixson received a not-so-comforting letter in May informing them of the possible need to vacate the Park Circle development at the end of the month due to potentially unsafe conditions. What followed was a lengthy legal battle that delved into the finer points of wood rot and accountability. On one side of the Mixson debate, there were the owners of the apartment community, Jamestown Properties, who were ready to demolish the 10-building complex and start fresh. Following allegations of rotting wood, structurally unsound balconies, and termite infestation, Jamestown took legal action against the Samet Corporation, the general contractor for the project who had been handling major repairs at Mixson. Samet saw the decision to empty the complex a bit differently.
“These tenants are being kicked out on the street, and it’s a play because if they kick the tenants out, what it’s going to do is raise their loss of business revenue claim in the litigation by tens of millions of dollars,” said Samet attorney Chip Bruorton in May. “That’s what their interest is. It’s not the interest of the tenants.”
In November, it was revealed that Mixson had been purchased for $5.3 million by Grubb Properties in Charlotte, with plans to repair and restore the ailing complex. In the high stakes and often absurd world of local real estate, the Mixson controversy proved to be the most ridiculous.
Gov. Haley receives Trump nomination
Much has been said about Gov. Nikki Haley’s rise in the political world. The word “meteoric” has been thrown around a lot, and perhaps with good reason. In selecting the possible members of his administration, President-elect Trump tapped Haley as his pick for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. The nomination comes even after Haley described Trump as “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” But there’s a thin line between enemies and friends in American politics, and it’s a line that many politicians enjoy using for hopscotch. There’s no sure way of knowing what the future holds for Haley, but perhaps the people of South Carolina will get to see their governor drop a “Bless your heart” on the representatives from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
2016 Stories that Just Won’t Go Away
In a city plagued with rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing sits an empty building with 220 abandoned units. And that’s how the 14-story building has sat for years. It seems after a heated legal battle involving developers, the city, and concerned neighborhood groups, that plans for the Sgt. Jasper site may finally come to fruition — but we’ve seen this all go south before.
West Ashley Bike Lane
From the traffic studies and feasibility assessments to hour after hour of City Council debates stretching late into the night, there still isn’t a dedicated bike lane across the Legare Bridge. Neither is there a final decision against it. Instead there is just the persistent state of limbo that the city, county, and state can’t seem to shake.
The year began with the possibility of a moratorium on the construction on new hotels on the peninsula. But what started as a proposal from the city’s new mayor was quickly shot down by Charleston City Council in favor of a study of the impact that hotel development was having on the area. The city’s Planning Department offered a few suggested ordinance’s to keep the accommodations district in line, but those efforts have been deferred indefinitely.