Community and law enforcement talk at Town Hall meeting

A community member asks a question during the meeting. Photo by Samantha Lyles

A community member asks a question during the meeting.
Photo by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Lawson Grove Baptist Church in the Oates community held a Darlington County Forum / Town Hall meeting on May 21, and the panel discussion focused on ways to improve relationships between law enforcement and the public. Several panel guests addressed the audience, including Darlington County Sheriff Wayne Byrd, Darlington Police Chief Danny Watson, Darlington Mayor Tony Watkins, Rep. Robert Williams, and coordinating teacher Nateisha Taylor of Spaulding Middle School. Pastor Anthony Hooks of Lawson Grove Church conducted the meeting.

Sheriff Byrd fielded a question about the April 4 killing of an unarmed man by North Charleston Police. Byrd said that incident, a traffic stop where motorist Walter Scott ran from police and was fatally shot, was “completely uncalled for and unjustified.”

“There should never be a day in our country when something like that happens,” said Byrd. “I would like to think that we don’t have any officers like that working for us… if I thought we had someone who was like that, they wouldn’t be with us. We’d get rid of them.”

Byrd noted that in contrast to similar incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore, North Charleston did not suffer violent riots and looting afterward because the city took swift legal action against the officers involved and kept lines of communication open with the community.

“The people of North Charleston knew that the right thing was done and it was done in the right way,” said Byrd. “That’s all people really want… to be treated with respect and like a human being.”

An audience member asked how much “freedom of speech” citizens have when they interact with police, specifically during traffic stops. Chief Watson advised motorists to keep a cool head when they get pulled over. He asked drivers who feel they’ve been ticketed in error, or who object to an officer’s conduct, to wait until a traffic stop is over and take their complaint to the issuing department.

“The best time to deal with that (discontent) is probably not on the side of the road,” said Watson.

In many cases, said Watson, a contested issue can be worked out by reviewing patrol car dash camera or body camera video.
“We can review it and say this is what went right, and this is what went wrong,” Watson said.

Nateisha Taylor asked attendees with young children in their lives to take an active role in their education and help keep them on the right track. She asked for community members – specifically men – to volunteer as mentors and provide guidance for boys.

“We have literally hundreds of children, particularly males, who do not have a strong male influence in their lives. We have some hard-working single mothers who are doing the best they can, but they can’t teach a young boy how to be a man,” said Taylor.

Taylor also advised patience and open-mindedness when a child has discipline troubles at school, and asked families to stay current on school academic standards and requirements by visiting the South Carolina Department of Education website at www.ed.sc.gov

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Author: Duane Childers

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