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COMMENTARY: Beyond banning chokeholds
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COMMENTARY: Beyond banning chokeholds

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Orangeburg City Council approved a resolution prohibiting police officers from using chokeholds and strangleholds. The resolution, which was initiated and championed by the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety, also updates the department’s use-of-force policy to require officers to intervene if they witness a fellow officer behaving in a way that is inappropriate, illegal or in violation of department policies.

This action follows more than a month of social uprising as people across the country demand an end to police brutality, which, for centuries, has disproportionately targeted Black and brown people.

This initial reform is an important and overdue step toward increased police accountability, but much more needs to be done to remedy the deep harm inflicted on Orangeburg’s Black and brown communities by our criminal justice system.

Let me be clear: The system isn't broken — it was designed to produce the results we see today. Coming to terms with this reality means recognizing that for Black and brown people in our community to truly live freely and without fear, we must invest in people and communities, not police. This critical structural change may not happen overnight, but there are many steps we can take now to prevent future police violence:

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Step 1: Establish community-led law enforcement review boards with subpoena and discipline power. Community-led law enforcement review boards can operate as a mechanism for true police accountability. An effective review board consists of community members who are not connected with or appointed by police. Additionally, the board must have the power to conduct independent investigations, subpoena records and police officer testimony, and implement disciplinary decisions.

Step 2: Stop over-policing students at Orangeburg’s two historically black universities, Claflin and South Carolina State. Black students in Orangeburg continue to suffer from an enduring legacy of over-policing historically Black university campuses, a practice that 52 years ago led to the Orangeburg Massacre where South Carolina Highway Patrol officers brutally murdered three unarmed Black men during a protest on the campus of South Carolina State University.

To this day, police over-patrol Orangeburg’s HBCUs under the guise of public safety, enforcing petty laws that were never intended to protect our communities from harm. As a result, students are needlessly thrust into the criminal justice system and face devastating collateral consequences that impact their ability to apply for student loans, keep scholarships, secure jobs, and build prosperity for themselves and their families.

Step 3: Decriminalize the personal use and possession of marijuana and paraphernalia for adults. South Carolina ranks second among all states for marijunana possession arrests. Our vigorous enforcement of marijuana laws disproportionately targets Black communities and entangles tens of thousands of people in the criminal justice system every year at a tremendous human and economic cost.

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While we work toward statewide legalization, Orangeburg City Council can and should end the enforcement of marijuana and paraphernalia possession laws by the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety. Doing so would not only prevent people from needless involvement in our criminal justice system, it would also prevent police from using suspected marijuana possession as a license to escalate interactions with residents of our community.

Step 4: Prohibit police from enforcing a range of non-serious offenses, including issuing fines and making arrests for non-dangerous behaviors. By issuing fines and enforcing laws regulating non-dangerous behaviors, police perpetuate a racially skewed two-tiered justice system. These practices disproportionately harm people living in poverty and people living in over-policed communities where they are more likely to be targeted and punished for minor infractions. Instead of making our communities safer, these practices inflict lasting and disproportionate harm.

To me, public safety is the ability to live freely without fear of being targeted by a structure that was designed to advance the security and privilege of some at the expense of others. To extend this freedom to all people in Orangeburg, we must first address the fundamental ways in which our criminal justice system is designed to perpetuate harm. Now is the time.

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Anwar Young is American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina criminal justice reform organizer.

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