Protesters marched through the streets of Charleston for several days demanding that our leaders upend the systemic racism at the core of our institutions. It has been a humbling experience to walk alongside them. It is sad and shameful that, as a newspaper, we feel compelled to voice our solidarity with South Carolinians begging for basic human rights long denied many because of the color of skin. But for the sake of decency, freedom and justice, we must.
For carrying signs memorializing people killed in police violence and sharing their support online, our neighbors in Charleston have been met with sneers, cowardly social media messages and general ignorance about their grievances.
After hundreds of protesters marched peacefully on Charleston’s streets on the afternoon of May 30, the night turned ugly, seemingly catching police by surprise. Looters hit small areas of downtown hard, breaking glass, stealing and creating havoc. No one died. No buildings burned down, as in other cities. The destruction was contained, but police arrested few.
The next day, however, peaceful protesters were met with an overreaction of aggression as police gassed dozens and shot pepper balls at them. More arrests were made of protesters than of the rioters who frightened the city’s elite the night before.
Ending excessive, aggressive police force against black and brown people should just be the beginning. City, county and business leaders must demand that the economic, political, social and health care structures now in place stop reinforcing stark racist disparities in our communities. Unjust conditions have been ignored for far too long.
Charleston is a city on stolen land built by a stolen people. This is an inescapable truth that should be remembered as our city celebrates its 350th year. Those in power should also realize little has changed in the five years since a white North Charleston police officer killed Walter Scott. Despite many community conversations and convening after a white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers at Emanuel AME Church, much more work needs to be done as residents cry for change.
As a newspaper, our job is to connect peoples’ stories to communities and hope readers understand more about where they live. We feature a diverse array of pictures, news and features throughout our issues. But we, like our whole industry, remain challenged to break our own diversity barriers. Fewer than 14 percent of journalists nationwide are people of color, according to the Poynter Institute. We will continue to tell stories and listen when we are called out for ignorance. To get started and broaden our view, we will reach out through our neighborhoods by July 1 to gather a broad board of advisers to help us improve our coverage.
Breaking the historical chains of slavery that extend into modern-day systemic racism is not going to be easy. But we must stand up against the ghosts of the past that continue to haunt Charleston. Otherwise we enable it. All of us must stand up. All of us must listen. Black lives do, in fact, matter.