Pubdate: Sun, 17 Mar 2002
Source: The Post and Courier (SC)
Copyright: 2002 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Glenn Smith


A string of deadly shootings on the Charleston peninsula in 2001 propelled 
the number of homicides throughout the city to its highest level in seven 
years, with black males accounting for all but two of the 14 victims.

The surge, nearly double the 2000 killings, came just two years after the 
city experienced a 40-year low in homicides.

Charleston police blame the rise on a wave of gun violence fueled by drug 
disputes and street vengeance.

In 2001, nine people were fatally shot on the peninsula and more than 20 
others were wounded by gunfire. It was the bloodiest year on the peninsula 
since 1995, when 11 people were killed.

Most of the fatal shootings involved black men being shot by other black 
men, with the victims falling between the ages of 19 and 35. Charleston is 
hardly alone in this trend.

Black men, who made up 14 percent of the population in Charleston, Berkeley 
and Dorchester counties, accounted for 57 percent of homicide victims in 
the metro region last year. The number of black men killed in the three 
counties hit a decade high of 25 in 2001."The handgun is looked upon today 
as an implement of manhood for these guys," said Police Chief Reuben 
Greenberg. "They look upon physical force as a primary means of resolving 
any dispute or argument."

In Charleston, the black-on-black violence was largely relegated to the 
east and west sides of the peninsula above Calhoun Street. This is nothing 
new. Of the 43 people killed on the peninsula between 1995 and 2001, all 
but three were black men slain in the neighborhoods above Calhoun. Before 
this year, the last white person killed on the peninsula was in 1995.

Investigators have traced some of the recent shootings to a group seeking 
retribution for the unsolved slaying of Freddie Green Jr., who was fatally 
shot at Line and Hanover streets in December 2000. Greenberg also suspects 
some of the violence stems from drug dealers jockeying for turf in the wake 
of Operation May Day, a multi-agency investigation aimed at the heroin 
trade on the city's East Side.

"I think there is a struggle going on over who is going to control the drug 
trade in Charleston," Greenberg said. "We're part of that struggle, because 
we are saying no one is going to control it."

City Councilman Kwadjo Campbell said the shootings represent "young people 
responding to their conditions," from a lack of educational opportunities 
to low-paying jobs and a lack of affordable housing. "This has translated 
into a drug economy and criminal activity," he said.

Campbell and four other city council members are pushing a plan to tackle 
economic disparities that they argue are the root causes of violence.

Among other things, the plan calls for giving low-income residents priority 
for affordable housing, studying improvements to streets and parks in poor 
neighborhoods and job training. A youth task force is being developed to 
involve the area's young people in crime prevention.

Campbell said the shootings have created an "environment of fear" that 
disrupts the momentum for this type of positive change.

"That's the message we need to send to the young people: You help destroy 
the community when you help terrorize the community," he said.

In North Charleston, drugs also were cited as a root cause of an increase 
in slayings last year. Of the city's 11 homicides - up from four in 2000 - 
seven can be traced to drug disputes, said North Charleston Police Chief 
Jon Zumalt.

"We have a drug problem in North Charleston, a significant one, and we are 
suffering from the symptoms of that," he said. "We've got to do something 
to fix it."

Between 1994 and 2001, the number of drug arrests in North Charleston more 
than doubled from 947 to 1,978, according to police statistics.

Under Zumalt, the police department plans to embark on an ambitious plan to 
tackle drug violence and the conditions that allow the narcotics trade to 
prosper. Among other things, police plan to target gun offenders for 
federal prosecution and stiffer sentences, work with other city departments 
to improve street lighting and other conditions in neighborhoods, and 
launch a program that would bring inmates into schools to discuss the 
consequences of crime.

In the decade before 2000, most of Charleston County's homicide victims 
were blacks killed by blacks, while the more rural Berkeley and Dorchester 
counties' victims were mostly whites involved in domestic slayings. In the 
past two years, that trend has shifted. In 2001, blacks accounted for half 
the homicide victims in the two counties. The previous year, 12 of 15 
victims were black.

Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt said killings in his county last year 
tended to fall neatly into one of two categories: domestic violence or 
drugs. The one case that stood apart was the July killing of Thomas Lee 
Ravenell, 58, who was shot in the back by a stranger as he walked to church 
in St. Stephen.

"This was just a senseless crime," he said. "There was no altercation 
between them and no information surfaced that either party knew each other."

Dorchester County Sheriff Ray Nash called 2001 "a strange year for 
homicides." The county's five slayings included a woman who was found dead 
in a burned car, a 6-month-old who was allegedly smothered by his mother 
and a man who was stabbed after a long-running feud with a neighbor.

The county's most high-profile homicide was that of Gabriel Britt, a 
6-year-old autistic boy found floating in a pond March 11 near his family's 
home in the Texas community near St. George. A second autopsy performed 
months after his death determined Gabriel died from suffocation and was 
likely placed in the pond after his death. No arrests have been made.

Sarah Lundy contributed to this report.
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