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    Posted April 28, 2015 by
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    The South Carolina Black Experience: From the Back of the Bus to Shot in the Back


    Abdalla Addahoumi

    with Sammi Addahoumi



    “National experts in a variety of fields are gathering in Columbia this week for a summit….A conference…is taking place Thursday and Friday at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.  The South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services is among sponsors of the event at which experts in fields from pharmacology to law enforcement and public health plan to share information and encourage participants to collaborate at the local level.”

    ​​​​​​​​-April 23, 2015



    ​ Entire communities have been traumatized by acts of violence committed by US law enforcement agencies against Black Americans, as what were once written off as isolated incidents have now proven to be engrained as “Best Practices”. Shocking headlines of absolute disregard for human life have prompted groups and individuals from all across America to gather resources and share information among a wide range of stakeholders.  This is an organizational change in law enforcement and emergency services that extends their authority to public health officials, civic leaders, and even the private sector without any of their accountability.


    The conference described above, paid for by the South Carolina Department Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, or DAODAS, is a rare event sponsored by a little known but powerful agency that subcontracts with 33 different alcohol and drug abuse providers in 46 SC counties.  This paper will examine the purpose of the DAODAS forum in Columbia, to legalize marijuana in South Carolina, as it relates to demonstrations, meetings, and conferences in cities such as Baltimore, MD or Ferguson IL whose expressed purpose is address police violence.  It will become clear that in order to address the problem of police violence in South Carolina, marijuana laws must be not only be addressed, but completely abolished and deregulated entirely.


    Over the past year, as protestors around the country took to American streets, whether rioting in Ferguson or peacefully demonstrating in Baltimore, Md., all of this was in stark contrast to the inaction found in Columbia, SC, and indeed, the entire Palmetto State.  Even when Levar Jones was shot repeatedly by a SC State Trooper on Broad River Road July of 2014, making international news headlines, even then, the response from the Black community in South Carolina was muted & reserved to the point of being described as a “model” to which other communities could or should emulate.


    Many commentators, both local and foreign, Black and White, attributed the inaction of Columbia, SC to the swift response to by local authorities to indict and arrest Sean Grouber, avoiding the anger that was allowed to fester in Ferguson.

    This view was as superficial and naïve as it was dangerous, for it ignored the reality that South Carolina is not Illinois and Columbia, SC is not New York City any more than USC is UCLA. The Black experience in South Carolina is very different from anywhere else in America:  it is mostly unchanged and only barely unchained.  Whether the Confederate flag serves as a time capsule of heritage or hate, it flies in the face of Black South Carolinians as a warning and as much a reminder of history as hierarchy.


    The Black experience in South Carolina is in many ways worse than when Cotton was King and Charleston, South Carolina was among the richest, most powerful cities in the world.  Slaves were very expensive, investments that made South Carolina so rich and powerful that lawmakers in Columbia, SC chose Slavery over the Republic and continue to do so.

    This is done by lawmakers who are landowners and police who are overseers as much as Slave traders using marijuana laws to recruit chain gangs for prison labor and the South Carolina legal system to spare no whip.


    Private prisons are plantations that serve the as only employment options for many SC towns and the only revenue source for many SC counties. The burgeoning prison labor industry cannot be separated from the correspondingly burgeoning rate of Black South Carolinians who are arrested for marijuana charges compared to White South Carolinians and cannot be ignored if exponential rise in SC marijuana arrests are compared to the now sharply decreasing numbers of marijuana arrest nationwide.


    The same prison labor that keeps all Black South Carolinians minimum wage artificially low serves to lower the value of Black lives as increasing numbers of SC law enforcement are trained to instinctively shoot dead any Black South Carolinians who resist recruitment to dangerous prison labor jobs where their lives are leased for pennies, not bought, thus easily disposable and worth far less on the streets on Charleston, SC today than when auctioned off to the highest bidder in the city’s old Slave market


    Major corporations such as IBM and Victoria Secret profit from using cheap prison labor and exploiting the culture of South Carolina that arrests Blacks at four times the rate of Whites for laws relating to marijuana possession.  For one South African firm, the readily available cheap labor was motivating enough to relocate an entire factory across the Atlantic Ocean to be built directly inside a SC prison.  Many prisons have factory lines that companies lease to manufacture inside prison walls as well as prisoner leasing that brings labor to the factory on a prison bus each shift. South Carolina inmate labor is used to make everything from the chairs in the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library to the caps and gowns that USC students wear to graduation ceremonies.


    Facts show Black South Carolinians are disproportionally targeted by law enforcement interests but rarely have those interests been explored outside of the context of race. There is system that profits from cheap inmate labor and, often, the same politicians whose discriminatory legislation leads to prison overcrowding are the same investors or advisors with financial ties to the privately run prison industry. Such a system has done what Apartheid could not by embracing capitalism while at the same time protecting labor markets for whites by simply arresting Black low wage earners, removing them from the job market.


    There are many reasons why the debate over reforming marijuana laws are often framed in the context of economics, whether in terms of supply and demand or with emphasis on budget deficits and tax revenue. Many, if not most,  US states with amended marijuana laws passed such legislation use the tax revenue of marijuana as a selling point, both voters as well as politicians.


    The reality of shrinking budgets has left many cities, such as Ferguson, targeting Black citizens for traffic fines, court fees, or property seizures. In many cities and states the drug war over the past 30 years has specifically targeted African Americans areas disproportionally by targeting marijuana and crack cocaine while extending much fewer resources on substances like cocaine which is associated with whites even though in reality, cocaine is far more widespread than crack cocaine, which in reality, is used more by the white than Black population.


    ​Most states direct portions tax revenue from marijuana sales to drug education, treatment, and youth prevention and schools. Those taxes are due to regulations put in place by laws that were passed to ensure, or protect, that revenue.  These laws regulate who can buy and sell marijuana with by selling permits whose fees and costs leave primarily only white dispensary owners with capital and white customers with money and insurance needed for healthcare in order to obtain a doctor’s permission to buy marijuana legally. This forces Black sellers and Black buyers of marijuana to use street corners in a black market that was promised away by proponents of marijuana law reform.


    Medical dispensary owners are naturally one of the main enforcers of laws preventing illicit trade on the streets by alerting law enforcement that Blacks are essentially stealing their business.  So without a legal permit to buy marijuana that requires healthcare to obtain and a legal permit to sell which requires large amounts of capital to obtain, Black Americans are actually targeted by law enforcement whether marijuana laws are reformed or not.


    As it has been seen, Black South Carolinians are four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana and any reformed laws in South Carolina will likely lead to more Blacks being arrested for growing and selling in addition to possession. Not only Black members of the community who have or sell marijuana, but every single Black person is essentially already deemed guilty, as marijuana is used as a pretext or an excuse or reasonable cause to stop, search, pull over, detain, and target members as, unlike their white counterparts, they have no get out of jail card or sticker showing who is legal and who is not.

    Even if only a civil fine is required, as opposed to a misdemeanor or felony, the fine itself is sentence and must be paid eventually or their driver’s licenses could be suspended, or be prevented from obtaining services like public housing, or be further harassed by law enforcement.


    In many ways, reformed marijuana laws have simply been reinterpreted Black codes, that, along with things like curfews in 5 Points in Columbia, SC, loitering laws, and traffic laws, allow law enforcement to systematically target, antagonize, and most importantly, control and profit from, the vulnerable, legally defenseless Black citizens of South Carolina.  This is done in conjunction, more importantly collaboration, with local, state, and federal authorities from public housing and its security apparatus, to an alphabet soup of Redlining “taskforce” paramilitary “gang” and “drug” “suppression” teams that work in secretive grey areas of state, local, federal “information sharing” hubs like the SC DHS SLED Fusion Center Annex located on 1730 Bush River Road here Columbia SC.


    This not the SLED headquarters on Broad River Road, though they are no more than a few miles apart. In that very short distance between SLED headquarters on Broad River and the DHS SLED Fusion Center Annex on Bush River Road is where Levron James was shot no less than 5 times at point blank range only to pitifully apologize to SC Trooper Sean Grouber for being shot. That is the Black experience in South Carolina today as it was yesterday with the more recent murder of Gary Walker in Charleston, SC clearly shows, though he had no time to apologize for being shot in the back. As he died, the police were already in touch with SLED and other interests working to cover up the shooting as just another day in South Carolina. Until an eye witness video was released exposing a dark side to South Carolina government that is systemically engrained to target Black citizens in a conscious bias of which they are all too well aware.


    ​The marijuana laws in South Carolina must be not only be reformed, they must be abolished.  This must start in South Carolina because South Carolina is where it all began and where all of it can end.  There is a mandate for marijuana laws to be erased from the record because that record has proven to target Black South Carolinians not for marijuana possession but for being Black though to mistake it for racism is a fatal error. Black South Carolinians are targeted by all aspects of law enforcement and there is not a single government entity from SLED to the NAACP to the FBI who Black South Carolinians can trust, much less turn to.


    We can give Black citizens chance to defend themselves when others will not by taking away what has proven to be the most powerful weapon to strip away all rights to life and liberty:  Marijuana laws. For want of a nail the kingdom was lost. To remove marijuana from the arsenal of charges that can be falsely levied against Black South Carolinians is to finally unchain them.  Without a marijuana charge, police will have to look harder for reasons to stop someone, to pull over someone, to investigate someone, to look in the mirror so to speak.  To be finally judged on the content of character instead of the color of skin is to remove marijuana charges from any criminal record of any Black South Carolinian.  If any charges related to marijuana are erased most criminal records would not exist and those that do will be much shorter.


    In South Carolina, marijuana laws are used as tool of power, of a darkness blacker than any race, of the power to decide arbitrarily who lives and who dies. Who is charged and who is not and who is arrested and who is not is left entirely up to the discretion of the law enforcement officer.  If marijuana is found, the officer has full discretion, no less than absolute authority, to decide both whether to issue a charge and whether to arrest or simply write a ticket for a later court date.


    The reality is Black South Carolinians are arrested, taken to jail, booked, finger printed, processed, and held while white South Carolinas are simply written a traffic ticket for simple possession of marijuana and are free to go home to be exactly what the Black experience does not included: a father figure.  It is up to the officer if a man is man if all men are created equal. One single marijuana charge literally has a domino effect that makes criminals of men who are stripped naked in jail and dehumanized in jail while white neighbors under the exact same circumstances allowed go home to help with homework. Removing any form of law against marijuana that does not apply to crabgrass will provide dignity and self-respect where there has proven to be a void:  in law enforcement and in the Black communities they serve.

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