Disgusted. That’s how I described my feelings in response to riots, the criminal hijacking of peaceful protests, across our communities in response to racial injustices.
Many, who either believe the violence is justified, or are willing to overlook it as simply a distraction to the larger issue, challenged me. “What then are you doing to improve things?” “Can we expect more than empty words?” These were a few questions posed to me on social media (because people don’t actually talk with people anymore). Many went further, accusing me of racism.
In the larger context, the questions were couched in a way that they only addressed policing policies. Fair enough. That is a significant part of our problem. But still, only a part. While we must act against corrupt policing, I will not lay the entire problem at the feet of law enforcement.
So, what am I doing?
I’ve supported increased funding for law enforcement training. Expanded the use of body cameras in South Carolina. Worked with law enforcement agencies to address the obstacles that prevent them from recruiting and retaining quality officers.
To carry this further, I have joined many of my colleagues to sponsor the South Carolina Law Enforcement Accountability, Duty, and Standards (SC LEADS) Act. Legislation aimed at requiring baseline standards and accreditation of police departments, instituting a statutory duty to intervene, fully funding body and car cameras, identifying and prosecuting misconduct, limiting duties of non-certified officers, and guaranteeing independent investigations of officer involved deaths and great bodily injuries.
In addition to policing, it is important to focus on the things that provide for opportunity, build self-worth, advance self-respect, and the respect of others. With that in mind...
I’ve spoken in African American Churches about gun violence. I’ve supported programs designed to teach parenting skills in minority communities. I’ve worked with entities looking to provide affordable and workforce housing. Supported improvements to public education as well as increased access to alternative programs for children in poverty and those with special needs. I’ve worked across the aisle to craft responsible pathways for HBCU’s in South Carolina, that were on the brink of bankruptcy, an opportunity to survive and thrive.
I’ve supported measures to improve the Department of Juvenile Justice and Department of Social Services, to include foster programs. All of which serve a disproportionate number of African Americans.
I support effective programs proven to reduce recidivism and teach transferable life skills. I’ve regularly worked to improve job and career training opportunities.
I’ve voted to expand broadband access to the entire state of South Carolina, paving the way to deliver education, workforce, and healthcare resources across rural South Carolina.
Recognizing it as an extraordinary symbol of pain, I voted to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the State House grounds. I’ve voted for state funding for the yet to be constructed International African American Museum at a time when the City of Charleston struggled to meet their commitments.
Not all of these efforts have produced the desired results, and for some it is simply too soon to tell. More needs to be done that is for certain. But I reject the claim that nothing has changed. Not everyone who disagrees with the methods of the other side disagrees with the ultimate goal that…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Suddenly we've devolved into emotional arguments about statues and buildings. Let’s not squander the opportunity. We can continue to work to make South Carolina safer and improve the law enforcement profession, create opportunities and resources for those who suffer injustice, provide opportunity for all, or we can fight about historical monuments for the purpose of exponentially increasing racial division in our communities.
It is times like these that I am reminded of a piece of advice I received early in my public life. “You can make a point, or you can make a difference.” I prefer the latter.