Pubdate: Sun, 10 Feb 2002
Source: The Post and Courier (SC)
Copyright: 2002 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Jeffrey Collins


Many S.C. Blacks Remain Distrustful Of Courts, Police

CHESTER, S.C. --[Associated Press] Police Chief Anthony Staten wheels his 
police cruiser around the corner and past a row of deteriorating clapboard 
houses and trailers that a stiff breeze might topple. On a corner stand 
four young black men, hands in their pockets, eyes cast down as the chief 
slowly drives by on a weekday afternoon. "What do you think they are 
doing?" Staten asks. "Waiting to sell some drugs." Staten, who for a little 
more than three years has been police chief in this predominantly black 
city of almost 6,500, knows something about race and justice in South 
Carolina - a state where many blacks are still wary of the court system. 
The distrust is obvious as Staten, who is also black, patrols a low-rent 
district where the bright pastel paint on the houses peels and clashes with 
the rusted air conditioners poking out of the walls.

As Staten's cruiser rolls past, a few residents open their doors a crack, 
watching carefully through the screen to see what Staten will do next. As 
South Carolina enters a new century, many blacks are as suspicious of the 
system as were their ancestors. "We're angry.

Black men know they have never got a fair shake and wonder if we ever 
will," says James Murray, a prison minister who served three years for 
dealing drugs a decade ago. But it's not just men with rap sheets or 
frustrated family members left to raise children while a parent serves time 
who are upset with the system. I.S. Leevy Johnson, an attorney who served 
as the first black president of the South Carolina Bar, says unfair drug 
laws have robbed a generation of black men of their futures. And Staten 
wonders what would have happened to the young blacks hanging out on the 
corner if society put as much effort into education and job opportunities 
as into law enforcement. "These guys know they can make $200 or $300 real 
easy any time they want without much effort," Staten says. "Are they going 
to sweat for eight hours a day to make less than what they make right now?" 
Black males make up less than 15 percent of the state's population, but 
committed 36.2 percent of the crime in 2000, according to arrest statistics 
gathered by the State Law Enforcement Division. Those numbers follow all 
the way to the prison walls.

Black males make up 68 percent of the approximately 22,000 inmates in South 
Carolina prisons, the highest concentration of black inmates in the nation.

That means one in every 60 black males in the state is in prison.

The biggest problem, many say, is drugs.

In 2000, about 6,700 South Carolinians were arrested for selling, 
manufacturing, growing or distributing drugs - more than 70 percent were 
black in a state of 4 million where the population is less than 30 percent 
black. Those numbers are even more surprising considering a 1997 survey 
that found 31 percent of white males and 25 percent of black males in the 
12th grade use drugs on a monthly basis. Those who work within the system 
often see themselves walking a tightrope: Defend law and order, and you're 
branded a racist; point out the system may be biased against blacks, and 
you're called soft on crime. That's why Staten squirms in his seat and 
sighs when asked whether the highest-crime areas in town are black 
neighborhoods. "In Chester, the areas more prone for selling drugs are the 
areas ..." he says, pausing to measure his words. "They are the areas we 
have more calls," he says, sounding almost apologetic. "And the facts show 
we have more calls in the areas where there are more blacks."

Mob Justice

In the past, for many blacks, the only justice in South Carolina was mob 

The Tuskegee Institute estimates 156 blacks were lynched by mobs in South 
Carolina between 1882 and 1968. In 1904, a black was shot dozens of times 
by a mob in Kingstree after a jury couldn't decide whether to convict him 
of murder or manslaughter in the slaying of a white farmer.

Eight blacks accused of killing a white landowner were shot and killed in 
1889 when a mob stormed the Barnwell County jail. As a U.S. senator, 
"Pitchfork" Ben Tillman justified South Carolina's lynchings before 
Congress, saying he'd rather have his daughter killed by wild animals than 
raped by a black man. But white leaders often used rape allegations to 
incite mobs when the real problem was more trivial, such as a land dispute 
or a fistfight, University of South Carolina history professor Dan Carter 
says. And lynching was sometimes a political tool. A century ago the white 
Legislature also passed laws - like today's drug laws - that seemed to 
affect blacks more than whites.

The so-called "pig laws" gave 20-year sentences to people convicted of 
stealing just one pig or other small amount of livestock. "This law wasn't 
targeted at blacks," Carter said. "It just turned out to hurt them the most."

No Easy Solution

But cultural differences account for a lot when it comes to enforcing drug 
laws, Staten said. Blacks who use drugs tend to congregate outside in 
groups, making them easier to arrest.

White users will abuse drugs inside their homes, invisible to police. 
"African Americans are doing it in the streets.

White Americans are doing it in the country clubs," says Johnson, who 
recalls how, when a young lawyer back in the 1960s, judges made a point of 
excluding him from informal chitchats with white lawyers in chambers. One 
judge, who, after hearing how smart one of his clients was, asked, "Why are 
you selling drugs on Reid Street, when you could be working on Main 
Street?" Johnson recalls. "He just didn't get it," Johnson says. "The doors 
that are open to white children aren't open to him. He used his talent in 
the best way he could see fit." The drug problem and its effect on crime 
and on race relations is not easily solved, Carter said. "Everybody wants 
one easy explanation for the whole problem or one easy solution, and 
there's not one," the USC professor said. Johnson says the nation needs to 
seal its borders to drugs.

Staten wants more jobs. Murray thinks drug treatment should be more widely 

But all agree the problem has to be dealt with if race relations are to 
improve. "This affects everybody," Murray said. "And it's going to take 
everybody's help to clean the communities up and get us back on the right 
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens