When Rev. Dr. Charles Heyward, Sr. stepped on a bus chartered by the Charleston chapter of the National Action Network (NAN) bound for their Dec. 13, Washington, D.C. March, he knew the black community was on fire. When he stepped off that bus in our nation’s capital, he found out the community was on fire.
A flame is burning in the black community, specifically regarding the community’s perception, right or wrong, that police nationwide are using excessive force in dealing with crimes involving blacks. By December, were ablaze from Ferguson, MS to New York City, to right here on James Island.
The flame had been stoked by the July 17 death of Eric Garner, and the subsequent acquittal of NYPD Patrolman Daniel Panteleo, who used a choke hold to subdue Garner, ultimate killing him.
The Aug. 9 police shooting of Michael Brown, and the subsequent, Nov. 25 acquittal of the officer involved in his shooting, Darren Wilson , further stoking the flame.
Here on James Island, the Oct. 12 shooting of 51-year-old Greenhill Rd. resident Derryl Drayton kicked off a movement locally against alleged police brutality against blacks. Three days after the shooting, members of the Drayton family held a press conference with members of the NAACP decrying the recent series of shootings locally that they allege display a pattern of violence by the CCSO against blacks.
“My friend asked me recently when this is happened in Charleston … Hell, this happened right here on James Island,” commented Heyward of the Drayton shooting.
Despite the heat of the moment however, the December 13 NAN protests held in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol the protest stood out for being a properly conducted, peaceful, very “American” public gathering. The event’s importance was evidenced by the turnout; not only were there thousands in attendance, the group was a diverse one. And “James Island was there,” reminds Rev. Dr. Heyward, Sr., resident pastor at St. James Presbyterian Church. “And I was impressed by the diversity … blacks, white, Asians, Latinos, there were so many there for our cause. It was … America.”
Heyward led a strong contingent from James Island in joining other community leaders in the Lowcountry in boarding the NAN-chartered bus to D.C. Reflecting back on he and his contingent’s participation, Heyward displays both humility and justified pride.“This group, a good number of men and women, participated. Charleston is registered in term of being present. We’ve created a groundswell for the nation to see that this is an issue, and Charleston is a part it. The importance now is how we’ve come back and tried to interpret that,” said the Reverend in an interview with JIM.
“I’m a busy pastor … 24-seven. I don’t tell anybody to think about doing anything that I wouldn’t (myself) do. This congregation being actively involved in the Charleston Area Justice Ministry … I felt the event required my presence and saying to this congregation, ‘this is important.”
Elder James Johnson, the Charleston chapter contact for the NAN, orchestrated the trip. Upon receiving word from the organization’s leadership that a rally was going to be held, he reached out to a number of local clergy. Rev. Dr. Heyward was one who answered the bell.
On Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Jr. and his impending retirement:
“God bless him … but it’s time for him to go. He’s been part of the problem, in that, there has been no public statement discussing the issue. The Mayor has not acted in any way other than to keep the status quo.”
–Rev. Dr. Charles Heyward
Heyward’s not one to mince words when it comes to a solution to what he sees as a systemic problem throughout our justice system. The core of the issue lies in the process of selecting and vetting grand juries, asserts Heyward.
“Somewhere along the line there’s going to be a reaction, but the problem is that no legislative changes are made,” continued Heyward. “I feel hope that somehow the focus on Ferguson and New York is the impetus for a national movement and outcry to push of legislation regarding of the grand jury function. As a 64-year-old African-American I am realizing that the grand jury system is simply a system that white authorities have used to not reveal the law-breaking … the lawlessness that’s gone on against my community. The grand jury sounds good … but it is not.”