Columbia Urban League President James T. McLawhorn, Jr., has joined with the National Civil Rights Organization in calling for police reform and a greater commitment to racial justice in the wake of civil unrest sweeping the nation.
Noting the peaceful protests in Columbia, some of which turned violent as it did in other parts of the country, McLawhorn said constructive response must address police violence brutality as well as systemic racism.
Recommendations of the National Urban League to increase police accountability include widespread use of body cameras and dashboard cameras, revision of use-of-force policies, officer training, and hiring standards, and the immediate appointment of independent prosecutors to investigate police misconduct.
“Today, we are confronting two deadly pandemics,” McLawhorn said. “One is the novel coronavirus, which has taken more than 500 lives here in South Carolina, and the other is the 400-year-old epidemic of racism that manifests itself in the tragic loss of lives of African Americans in the custody of law enforcement.
“Protesters around the world are speaking with one voice and demanding a vaccine to kill this virus of racism. We have been waiting too long to remove this virus from society. The time is now, let’s eradicate this disease and heal our world of this dreadful plague.”
McLawhorn commended protest organizers for their efforts to keep the demonstrations in Columbia peaceful and focused. He also commended local officials and law enforcement for creating an atmosphere in which protests can take place peacefully. “The protesters’ message of social justice reform and a future that is free of racism and police brutality needs to be heard,” he said.
“For the past several years, the City of Columbia Police Department has used twenty-first-century policing procedures by building trust between the community and law enforcement, promoting transparency and communications with diverse community stakeholders,” McLawhorn said. “Although Columbia’s Mayor, City Council Members, and City Manager have worked closely with law enforcement and community stakeholders, there remains a need for more communications.”
McLawhorn, along with leaders of the 90 local Urban League affiliates around the country, signed on to National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial’s statement issued in reaction to the civil unrest. It states:
“Cities across the nation have erupted in rage and despair. As civil rights leaders who are committed to racial justice, we share the protesters’ anguish and the heartbreak of the communities where uprisings have turned violent.
“There are those who are inciting violence and mayhem. And there are those engaged in peaceful protest. No one should assume they are the same people, and we refute any attempt to discredit or dismiss the just cause for which people are marching based on infiltrators bent on sabotage. We support the right of citizens to engage in peaceful protest. We condemn the use of excessive force to dispel demonstrations.
“We are hearing what Martin Luther King, Jr., famously called ‘the language of the unheard.’ When George Floyd begged for his life as Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s throat, he was unheard. The onlookers pleading with Chauvin to stop were unheard.
“The cries for justice have gone unheard long enough.
“The long-overdue arrests of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers and one of the officers involved in George Floyd’s death are merely the first step in a long journey. The other officers involved in Floyd’s killing also must be held accountable.
“But even more than these (police reform) measures, we need a revision of our culture. It’s a culture that teaches a white woman walking her dog in Central Park that racially-motivated police brutality is a weapon she can use to enforce her preferred social code.
“As we pursue these measures to reform the police in our communities, we call upon all community leaders, elected officials, corporate leaders, and social institutions to join us in pursuing policies that promote racial reconciliation.”