The past year has brought multiple crises – from the continued murder of Black people by law enforcement, to the direct and collateral harms of COVID-19, to systematic efforts to restrict the fundamental right to vote, and more.
Thanks to ACLU supporters like you, we stood ready to face these crises – and we are ready for whatever comes next.
For the rest of this month, we invite you to tune in as we share some of our accomplishments from the past year. While we achieved many successes in 2020, much work remains before we can consider South Carolina a state where We the People means everyone. Thank you for being part of this work.
The first accomplishment we are highlighting is our community’s creating the Charleston People’s Budget Coalition. This Coalition includes a diverse set of Charleston-based organizations working to establish an equitable city budget, eliminate poverty and racial disparities, and shift power to create true accountability with city officials. Read more about this work:
The Charleston People’s Budget Coalition
Almost one third of residents in the City of Charleston face shelter poverty, where high housing costs force people to forgo other basic needs. Pedestrians and cyclists face one of the highest fatality rates in the country. People in need of mental health or substance use treatment cannot access services in large part because enough services do not exist. Gentrification is pushing communities of color out of our once diverse city at lightening speed.
In the City of Charleston and across the country, basic community services such as housing, education, and violence prevention programs are drastically underfunded. These are the very institutions that help build stable, safe, and healthy while communities. On the other hand, the amount of money spent on law enforcement has ballooned over the past 40 years despite a nationwide drop in violent crime.
In 2020, the City of Charleston allocated $53 million, approximately 22% of its total budget, to policing, funding the Charleston Police Department at a rate of $341.41 per capita. Comparatively, the City allocated just $6.03 per capita to Housing and Community Development, $3.33 to Resilience and Emergency Management, and $1.63 to the Mayor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families.
Contrary to public narrative, these disparate budget numbers do not translate to increased safety for City of Charleston residents. Since 2015, there have been more arrests in Charleston for marijuana possession than there have been for all violent offenses combined. Additionally, shocking divides exist between how these laws are enforced by race, with Black people being arrested for marijuana possession at 6.25x the rate of white people during the first half of 2020.
This pattern of disproportionate enforcement of laws based on race is not limited to marijuana arrests. According to the police department’s own arrest data, since 2015, despite being only 26.3% of the population, Black people have made up:
- 69% of loitering charges
- 54% of charges for possession of drug paraphernalia
- 45% of disorderly conduct charges
- 80% of disturbing school charges among youth
In response to this crisis, a diverse coalition of Charleston-based organizations came together as the People’s Budget Coalition. This group’s mission is to establish an equitable city budget, eliminate poverty and racial disparities, and shift power to create true accountability with city officials. We are proud to join this coalition, along with other members including Black Liberation Fund, Charleston BLM, Charleston Black Pride, Charleston Democratic Socialists of America, Community First Land Trust, Lowcountry Action Committee, Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities, Mika Gadsden- Charleston Activist Network, NAACP Charleston, and We Are Family.
Since our launch in mid-September, the People’s Budget Coalition has:
- Received coverage through organizations including the Post and Courier, Charleston City Paper, Live 5 News, Count On 2, and ABC 4 News
- Published a Civic Engagement Toolkit with the Black Liberation Fund
- Launched four social media campaigns to educate and mobilize our collective base to fight for a more equitable budget
- Hosted a public launch event of the coalition, reaching more than 800 community members
- Received a letter of support from 46 faculty members of the College of Charleston
- Organized around the city’s public budget hearing with six members speaking during the public comment period and 13 comments submitted for the official record.
Charleston can, and should, create true public safety by reinvesting in communities from which the city has divested and perpetuated centuries of harm against. This work starts, but does not end, in Charleston. We look forward to continuing this work across South Carolina, shifting funding, and ultimately power, to the people.