Joe Riley has been Mayor of Charleston, S.C. for a long time. Since December 1975, in fact. That makes him, according to Wikipedia, the longest serving mayor still alive, still in office in the United States. That’s even before cell phones!
The world has changed a lot in the 36 years since December 1975, and Mayor Riley has seen a lot of those changes come and go. When he entered office, America was still reeling from the post-Watergate fallout. He’s seen his city through Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and now Obama. The 68-year old Democrat was swept back into office last month by a huge landslide, so his popularity is certainly not in question.
So, his 10th term laying before him, apparently the popular mayor – a Democrat in a heavily conservative state – has no qualms about ordering his police department to roust and manhandle a group of kids trying to make a political point by sleeping in a park.
Things were a lot more dicey back in 1987. Riley had been mayor a mere 12 years when the Ku Klux Klan decided to hold a rally in the South Carolina city. Now, in the interest of fairness, the Latter Day Iconoclast must point out that the Klan obtained a parade permit on that hot, August day. And the Grand Dragon had to endure what must have been a great, personal humiliation to have the permit rules and regulations read to him by Reuben Greenberg – a black man who also happened to be Jewish. A double blow to the Aryan Ego, one would think!
It was a day that the government of Charleston should look back on with pride.
One wonders how proud they should be about what happened in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
In 1987, the Klan held part of their rally in the city’s Marion Park. A cordon of police protected the Klan so they could preach their message of hate.
Early on Nov. 23, 2011, a small group of Occupy Charleston protesters rested in sleeping bags. They had been allowed to spend the previous night in the park, unbothered by the police. They would not be so lucky this morning.
In the same park, in the shadow of the memories of police protecting the Ku Klux Klan’s right to preach hatred of races and religions, a force made up of Charleston Police swept through the park, arresting 10 of the protestors for the crime of being in the park, sitting quietly and peacefully according to one of the protesters, after 11 pm.
Again, in the interest of fairness, one of the protesters told the LDI that they approached the mayor in the days before the rally and informed him of their intention to occupy the park. The mayor, according to this source, replied with, “No way.” The source told the mayor they were going to do it, thanked him for his time and went on their way.
The protesters were allowed to spend all Monday night in peace and quiet. No explanation why Monday night was allowed and Tuesday night was not.
Eyewitnesses reported about 50 police forming a body wall and sweeping through the park, arresting the protesters for trespassing and being in the park “after posted park hours.”
We’ve been searching the various Charleston, SC official government websites, and the only reference we can find to “park hours” is vague at best.
Park hours are dawn to dusk unless other wise noted for a special event.
The director of the department of recreation and the director of the department of parks may close any park, playground, or portion thereof for maintenance or ground protection at any time.
Please note entering a city of Charleston Park while it is closed is tresspassing.
So, technically, a couple sitting on a park bench at “dusk” (which our drivers license training indicates as being one half hour before official sunset) is subject to arrest for tresspassing. One can rightfully wonder – if these kids were breaking the law Monday night, why were they not arrested then?
Why did the Mayor and the cops permit this horrible breach of the public safety for one night before deciding to act the second night? And why did they wait until 1 am to grab the kids instead of doing so at dusk – which, again, is defined as 30 minutes before official sunset. Since sunset in Charleston, S.C. on Nov. 22 was 5:16 p.m., those kids should have been handcuffed and in the wagon at 4:46 p.m.
If the police can give that much wiggle room to a hard and fast law and allow the kids to spend the night – the entire night – Monday, why did they wait until nearly 8 hours after dusk on Tuesday night to spring into action?
Bottom line. Were the kids wrong? Yeah. They should have followed the rules.
Did the cops overreact? Hell, yes. A body wall of 50 cops to sweep out and arrest 10 kids who were doing nothing but sitting there trying to bring Charleston’s attention to the vast inequities of wealth in America? Seems a bit much.
Could the longest currently serving mayor in the United States have done something other than say “no way” and sic the cops on the kids? Certainly. This is the same mayor who kept the Klan and the city’s large African American community from bloodshed in 1987. Certainly he could have found a way to work with 10 kids in sleeping bags.