Forum focuses on blue lights, black lives, police conduct
By Samantha Lyles
Darlington citizens and community leaders gathered on July 30 for a public forum on policing, staged at Dominion Church by the South Carolina Highway Patrol and former baseball star Orlando Hudson.
“We’ve all seen what’s happened around our country over the last few months, the civil unrest after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, so the South Carolina Highway Patrol took on the ‘We Agree’ initiative,” said Col. Chris Williamson, commander of the South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP).
Williamson read aloud the “We Agree” statement from S.C. Department of Public Safety, including passages acknowledging the role of police misconduct in recent events. (Full text of the statement, see Page 4A.)
“We agree that there is no place in a law enforcement organization for the use of excessive force or misappropriating a police officer’s power or position for gain. We agree that some law enforcement officers have abused the power entrusted to them and — as a result — harmed those they were sworn to protect. We agree that the acts of some officers have bred animosity between those who wear the badge and citizens of our communities — particularly the African-American community,” Williamson read.
The statement affirmed that leaders within police agencies must take “swift and appropriate action in the spirit of transparency” when dealing with officer misconduct, and must try to heal these wounds by talking openly with community and church leaders about ways to move forward together.
“We need each other. None of us can do this alone,” said Williamson.
Hudson spoke about the need for hope and cooperation within the black community to shepherd children away from crime, toward education, and into careers where they can make a difference. He also addressed how the protest marches have tapped into lingering feelings of resentment over the treatment of black citizens throughout American history.
“None of us sitting here is the cause of this mess that’s going on right now. This injustice has been going on for 400 years. We just happen to be caught in the midst of it,” said Hudson.
Audience members, including Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington, Mayor Curtis Boyd, Rep. Robert Williams and Darlington County School District superintendent Tim Newman, added their thoughts throughout the evening.
“The last few months across this country have been really, really tough. Not just for the African-American community, but for police officers as well. We’re having one of the most difficult and challenging times I’ve seen in my 30-year career recruiting and retaining people, because nobody wants to get into this business now,” said Washington, noting that talks are underway with the General Assembly to incentivize recruitment of minorities.
Washington added that he and Williamson both recall the civil unrest — replete with riots, marches and anti-police rhetoric — that followed the O.J. Simpson verdict in 1995 and the Los Angeles riots of 1992.
“We got through those incidents, and we’re going to get through this one. But it’s going to take love. I’m talking real love where you can see beyond the color of someone’s skin,” said Washington.
Williamson said the department regularly gets requests for speaking engagements to discuss how citizens should behave if stopped by a police officer. In response, SCHP made a video relating procedures for troopers conducting traffic stops and the best ways drivers can minimize risk during police encounters. The video is on their website at https://scdps.sc.gov/we-agree.