Media Contact

Ali Titus, atitus@aclusc.org

September 22, 2020

CHARLESTON, S.C. - A diverse coalition of Charleston-based organizations announced today a campaign advocating for an equitable city budget that promotes safety and well-being for all City of Charleston residents. Led by the Charleston People’s Budget Coalition, “Refund Our City” calls on officials to reallocate in 2021 five million dollars from the Charleston Police Department to communities that have experienced harm resulting from institutional divestment and neglect. 

There is overwhelming evidence that providing community services is among the cheapest and best ways to build healthier and safer communities,” said ACLU of South Carolina Organizing Advocate Emily Walter. “Almost a third of Charleston residents 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 these services in large part because there are not enough services. To ensure that Charleston is vibrant and safe for all community members, our city must invest in services and resources that benefit all of us.”

The Charleston People’s Budget Coalition’s reinvestment priorities include permanently affordable housing, opportunities for youth, safe infrastructure, living wages for all City of Charleston employees, and dedicated resources for the Department of Racial Reconciliation and Tolerance and the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation. 

The City of Charleston in 2020 allocated around $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.

Only 13.8% of arrests in Charleston in 2019 involved incidents with serious threats of violence, while up to 86.2% of arrests were for nonviolent, largely low-level offenses. Since 2015, there have been more arrests in Charleston for marijuana possession than there have been for all violent offenses combined, and in the first half of 2020, the Charleston Police Department arrested Black people for marijuana possession at 6.25x the rate of white people.

“African Americans’ perspective of public safety doesn't necessarily mean the same thing it does in the lives of others,” said Dot Scott, Charleston Branch NAACP President. “When thinking of how municipal funds are allocated, I am reminded of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. According to Maslow, the most important needs are physiological, including food and shelter. When these basic needs are not met, the City of Charleston needs to rethink its budget. Rethinking the budget around public safety would and should also require rethinking the value of all residents and their contributions, past and present, in making this beautiful city what it is today. To do less maintains the status of ‘partially separate and absolutely not equal.’”

“The Charleston Police Department should not have the lion’s share of funding from the city budget,” said Joshua Parks, Co-founder of Lowcountry Action Committee. “We need community control of the police and a People’s Budget to address the racial disparities that plague our city’s Black and poor communities. It’s time for Charleston to reckon with its gruesome past of enslavement and Jim Crow.”

“The City of Charleston's neglect of communities of color in regard to economic development and growth has caused an immense gap between the rich and poor,” said Kwadjo Campbell, CEO of JC & Associates, LLC.  “And while gentrification has decimated the poor population on the peninsula, the number of ‘have nots’ remains significant enough to cause angst among the ‘haves.’ More policing might temporarily calm fears, but unless this city refocuses its spending priorities to address income and racial disparities in terms of housing, jobs, and business development, it will be to no avail.” 

The 2021 budget for the City of Charleston is currently under review by the city's Ad-Hoc Budget Advisory Committee. A public hearing on the budget will be held on October 27th. From there, Councilmembers will participate in two budget workshops ahead of a first reading in late November. Final passage is anticipated in mid-December. 

The Charleston People’s Budget Coalition is a united front advocating for an equitable city budget, the elimination of poverty and racial disparities, and a redistribution of power to create true accountability in Charleston. Coalition members include: ACLU of South Carolina, Black Liberation Fund, Black Lives Matter Charleston, Charleston Black Pride, Charleston Democratic Socialists of America, Community First Land Trust, JC & Associates LLC, Lowcountry Action Committee, Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities, Mika Gadsden- Charleston Activist Network, NAACP Charleston, and We Are Family.