Today, Charleston-area advocates, the Justice for All Coalition, sent a memo to Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, and Charleston County Council Members outlining a series of reforms that each entity must take to make Charleston County safer and more just for all of its residents. The organizations include the ACLU of South Carolina, Black Liberation Fund, Black Voters Matter, Charleston Immigrant Coalition, Charleston Activist Network, Charleston BLM, Lowcountry Action Committee, Lowcountry Black Leadership Coalition, SC4CJR, Carolina for All, and the Racial Justice Network. This memo, released after the killing of Jamal Sutherland, outlines a series of concrete steps that Charleston County entities should take to reduce the likelihood that the collective failures that led to Mr. Sutherland’s death do not happen again. In addition, the memo includes further actions that Sheriff Graziano should take to transform the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office into a model for other Sheriff’s departments throughout South Carolina and beyond.
“Jamal Sutherland should still be alive today,” said Marcus McDonald, Charleston BLM. “Jamal’s death was the result of intentional decisions by our political leaders to turn police into a ‘solution’ for those experiencing a mental health crisis, substance use, housing insecurity and a host of other issues they’re overly relied upon for. We must wake up to the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system. Charleston County Council must prioritize funding for mental healthcare and other supportive services over punishment and criminalization.”
“Our political leaders have prioritized policing and incarceration rather than things that will actually improve public safety and health, like ensuring all people have a roof over their head, comprehensive healthcare, a living wage, and quality public education,” said Emily Walter, ACLU of South Carolina. “It is past time to drastically reduce the size, scope, and role of law enforcement and substantially increase investments in areas like housing, education, and health care, especially in the Black and Brown communities that have been most targeted by discriminatory practices.”
“From civil asset forfeiture to fines and fees, South Carolina law incentivizes law enforcement to prioritize revenue collection,” said Latisha Imara, Black Liberation Fund. “Charleston County must ensure that law enforcement is focused on the fair administration of justice, not collecting revenue.”
“Mr. Sutherland’s death wasn’t the result of a few bad apples but of a system that stops, arrests, convicts and incarcerates Black and Brown people at staggering rates compared to white people,” said Shaquille Fontenot, Lowcountry Action Committee. “None of this is by accident. These outcomes are the natural result of a system of racist policies and economic exploitation that has governed our society since its inception. If our society truly wants to stop the murder and other forms of violence against Black and Brown people by law enforcement and make our communities safer, then we must invest in people and communities instead of police and incarceration.”