ACLU of South Carolina released report they said shows “staggering racial disparities” in Charleston arrests, citations

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, in South Carolina said Wednesday they want to work together in providing Charleston’s elected leaders with a blueprint for building a safe and just community.

A new report released by the Charleston Peoples’ Budget Coalition revealed what the ACLU called “Staggering racial disparities” in arrests and citations by the Charleston Police Department.

According to the report, which pulled data from CPD’s Open Data Portal, shows the department is still spending “the majority of its time arresting people for low-level offenses like marijuana possession and open container of alcohol and does so with a staggering racial bias,” the ACLU wrote.

The report looks at arrest and citation data from two distinct periods of CPD policing: The first being the five years leading up to the publication of the CPD racial bias audit, which happened in November 2019. The second included January 2020 to June 2021, the 18 months following publication of the audit.

Key findings include, between January 1, 2020, and June 31, 2021:
● CPD gave out 20,655 citations and made 5,098 arrests.
● 15.5 percent of arrests were for violent charges.
● 84.5 percent of arrests were for low-level or non-violent charges.
● Black people were arrested at 3.8 times the rate of white people.
● Despite being only 21.7 percent of Charleston’s population, Black people comprised:
○ 39.6 percent of open container of alcohol in a vehicle arrests
○ 40 percent of disorderly conduct arrests among all age groups
○ 54.8 percent of open container of alcohol arrests
○ 66.7 percent of public urination arrests
○ 71 percent of all marijuana possession arrests
■ 81.7 percent of marijuana sale arrests
■ 71.3 percent of marijuana possession arrests
○ 77.4 percent all arrests among youth
○ 78.6 percent of driving under a suspended license arrests
○ 96.6 percent of disorderly conduct arrests among youth
● Black drivers were almost 8 times as likely to get a citation for a license violation than white
drivers.
● Black drivers were arrested for a suspended license at 12.5times the rate of white drivers.
● Black people were cited for marijuana possession at 9.6 times the rate of white people.
● Black people were arrested for marijuana possession at 9.4 times the rate of white people.
● Black youth were arrested at 10.4 times the rate of white youth.

Based on the report, the ACLU claims the Charleston Police Department “has continued to arrest Black people at a staggering rate, and for many of the most common offenses the racial disparity has become
worse since the audit’s release.”

Marcus McDonald, the lead organizer for Charleston Black Lives Matter, said Charleston’s elected leaders continue to invest in a police department that enforces laws with a staggering racial bias.

“Real policing reform requires a reduction in policing, not just procedural reforms. Contrary to what we see on television, in reality law enforcement spend the vast majority of their time policing low level offenses like marijuana possession,” said Helen Mrema, Community Organizing Advocate for the ACLU of South Carolina. “CPD is no exception to this rule. Charleston must stop turning police into society’s “solution” for substance use, misbehaving children at school, unhoused people, and people experiencing mental illness, to name just a few.”

The full report is expected to be released Thursday at noon.

News 2 reached out to the Charleston Police Department for comment, they sent us the following statement:

“The Charleston Police Department is committed to public safety by remaining focused on reducing crime and the fear of crime in our community. In doing so, officers and professional staff work to build community partnerships through problem-solving in all areas of the city. As it relates to crime being committed, when appropriate, arrests are made but we understand that education, mentoring, and partnerships are equally important. CPD looks forward to reviewing the report, as supplied by the ACLU, in its entirety to ensure we are providing the best and most equitable policing possible to our community. We remain committed to positive encounters with our youth in our policing and community outreach efforts.”

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