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‘We’re not going to drop it’: Concerned Black Men detail next steps seeking police transparency

Concerned Black Men group in Rock Hill wants more transparency

Activist group Concerned Black Men of the City of Rock Hill met with Mayor Doug Echols and Police Chief Chris Watts over the last month to hash out ten demands the group gave to the Rock Hill Police Department in July. Rock Hill attorney Brad Rawl
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Activist group Concerned Black Men of the City of Rock Hill met with Mayor Doug Echols and Police Chief Chris Watts over the last month to hash out ten demands the group gave to the Rock Hill Police Department in July. Rock Hill attorney Brad Rawl

The 30-day waiting period is up.

The serious discussions have only just begun for Brad Rawlinson.

The local Rock Hill attorney spent an hour and a half Tuesday evening explaining and defending a list of 10 demands that he and his activist group gave to the Rock Hill Police Department last month that he hopes will create transparency into police actions.

“These are demands for a reason,” Rawlinson said during a public forum held at the old Pix Theater on Oakland Avenue. “We’re not going to drop it.”

Rawlinson led a dialogue with around 30 attendees that touched on topics including cameras in patrol vehicles, changes in behavior and enacting change in black communities.

He and his group, the Concerned Black Men of Rock Hill, last month marched downtown to the Rock Hill Police Department on July 16 to deliver a list of demands for action within 30 days. The group’s leaders have since held meetings with Mayor Doug Echols and police Chief Chris Watts.

Officials have complied with several of the demands, including supplying data on use of force and public complaints. But other sticking points remain. Officials have been unwilling to commit to a monthly public forum or to equip all cars and all officers with dash or body cameras.

Rawlinson said he thinks that should be considered a priority, no matter the cost.

Now that the initial 30-day window has closed, Rawlinson said his group is considering new tactics: installing cameras on their own personal vehicles to monitor police actions, encourage others to speak out to the department and potentially considering litigation. The group released a second letter to the department, while planning for a second march in the coming weeks.

Rawlinson says he’s received the most backlash over the term “demands.” He says he shouldn’t have to “ask nicely” to ask the department to fulfill their vision statement, which includes building trust and respect in the community.

“I can tell you, as a person who’s lived here most of my life, they’ve failed in that mission in parts of the city,” he said. “Women’s rights, LGBT issues ... don’t think that any of those groups asked nicely to get the things they wanted. People have to file lawsuits, get bitten by dogs. It’s having a pretty rosy picture of how things work if you think you have to ask nicely.”

Johnny Richey, a community activist, said the group’s message was a little too vague. He heads an action group that provides a long-term program to help young people learn what to do during traffic stops in order to earn trust with officers and reduce the risk of an incident.

Marches don’t work, he said, as they attract attention to the subjects, but not the issue.

“What makes you a victim of violence is the situation you put yourself in,” said Richey. “If you’re not in the zoo, a rhinoceros won’t stick you in the butt.”

Several attendees said they were worried about movements which gain traction on social media, but eventually die out after a few weeks. Rawlinson said he was willing to stick with his case for as long as he needed to do so.

Valante Perry, a bishop from Calvary Family Worship in Gastonia, N.C., told the crowd he wanted the movement to focus on community ties. Too many black youths are left without strong figures in their life, he said.

“It takes a tribe to raise a child,” Perry said. “I agree with everything that was said today, but you have to stretch it beyond that. If we demand more of the police department, we have to demand more of ourselves.”

Wes Climer of Rock Hill, the Republican nominee for S.C. Senate seat District 15, was in attendance and said he was a long-time friend of Rawlinson: “It’s a challenge for the whole country, to find ways of dialogue to try to prevent these horrible, horrible things that are happening in the country.”

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @DThackham

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