Resources in West Side

Empirical research shows that if the city prioritized more strategic investments on the West Side, it could see significant reductions in crime and recidivism, and savings on crime prevention costs.

April 2021 marked the most tragic month of gun violence in Charleston in at least five years, according to data obtained by Black by God.

Kelvin “KJ” Taylor, 18, was killed on the corner of Central Avenue and Glenwood Avenue on the West Side. Chastanay Joseph, 22, was killed in the East End at Renaissance Circle. George Scott Bishop, 46, was killed on Crescent Road in the West Side. Denaul Dickerson, 33, was shot by police on the West Side after a mental health crisis, and now remains in jail after being released from the ICU.

Those five shootings are only a small sample of the 113 incidents since 1980 found by Black By God through archival research and records requests. But one community leader says that Charleston has reached a once in a lifetime opportunity to end the cycle of violence.

Reverend Matthew Watts of the Grace Bible Church on the West Side believes that incoming funding from the recently enacted American Rescue Plan can make a lasting difference.

“The resources have never been there like they’re going to be there over the next two years,” Watts said.

Watts believes that to stop the violence, investments need to be made directly into families and housing. He’s been advocating for years to the Charleston City Council and the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority (CURA) to make more targeted, strategic investments in people through whole family education and an affiliate workforce center on the West Side. But in 2019, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that the vast majority of West Side investments from the city over the past ten years focused on commercial projects instead.

Empirical research shows that if the city prioritized more strategic investments on the West Side, it could see significant reductions in crime and recidivism, and savings on crime prevention costs. The 2014 study from Marshall University’s Center for Community Growth and Development also argues that those investments would improve educational outcomes, increase home ownership, and boost property values.

Now, Charleston is supposed to receive a nearly $38 million slice of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery pie, and Watts wants it to have an impact.

“There has to be a strategic plan to improve education, improve housing values through creating safe and affordable non-public housing,” Watts asserted. “There has to be a strategic investment to bring the services here that help people really develop.”

When outbreaks of violence occur, Watts says the same thoughtful conversations about trauma and helping children take place, but nothing changes because they prioritize immediacy over structural change. Instead, put the money into the environments where children live to really make a difference.

“It is the families that have to help kids manage trauma,” Watts said. “We got to work with their parents, we got to equip them with the skills so there’s less drama and less trauma taking place within the family.”

Councilwoman Deanna McKinney, who represents the West Side’s Ward 6 on Charleston City Council, says she’s “over it” about the money coming into the city and she wants to make sure this opportunity isn’t wasted.

“The West Side has been in need for decades, so with this little bit of money, my concern is where does the West Side fit in this? Where do the victims and the community fit in there?” she asked.

McKinney, who lost her son Tymel, 19, to a shooting in 2014, has been a strong advocate for West Side families since her election in 2018, but was not chosen to be a part of Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin’s advisory committee on American Rescue Plan funds.

“It’s not so much that I don’t have faith in this money. It’s just that from what I’ve been seeing in my experience, this is just more money that’s coming in,” she said. “There was money that’s already been put in [to the city] before this pandemic, and nothing was put into the West Side.”

Without other city council members on her side to vote for strategic neighborhood investments, McKinney worries that nothing will change.

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, communities must use American Rescue Plan funds to first fill budget losses from the pandemic before new spending.

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