I live in Ladson, SC, a small town that borders Summerville. Just about 20 clicks west of Charleston. Shortly after the Revolutionary War Charleston residents began to escape the industry of the city, the heat, seasonal insects, and swamp fever. They sought a country getaway. Plantation owners originally developed the area. There were so many pine trees it was known as Pineland Village. Eventually it was named Summerville, perhaps because it became a village of Summer dwellers. It officially became a town in 1847. That year, the town passed a law against cutting down trees of substantial size. The first of such laws in the United States. A $25 fine was issued upon anyone who did so without permission. Today the official seal of Summerville reads “Sacra Pinus Esto” (The Pine is Sacred). The population is just south of 53,000. Its 72% white, 21% black and a smattering of ethnicities round out the town with a median income of $54,677 and an average home is $182K.
On my way to work I was shocked to see residential and commercial buildings shuttered with plywood. Doors and windows boarded shut. An action normally reserved for hurricanes. Summerville is a pleasing picturesque town. There is Guerin’s Pharmacy, founded in 1871, six years after the Civil War ended. It is the oldest operational pharmacy in the state. I love going in there to enjoy an ice cream cone on a sweltering Dixie day. There are artifacts displayed from the olden days. I always bring out of towners to visit and they leave amazed upon experiencing this antiquated drugstore. There are nice parks, a quaint Main street and for a small town it has a respectable art scene and good restaurants. Some architectural gems provide a delightful aesthetic along with some fun and funky shops for those in need of retail therapy.
The death of a black man, George Floyd, asphyxiated by a white cop who pinned his knee on Floyds neck for over 8 minutes has brought hatred, rage and violent protest to America not seen since the 68 riots. I never thought I would see what has happened in the land that I love during the last 3 days. Demonstrations in over 30 cities demanding justice and racial equality. Some protests were peaceful while the majority were not. It’s hard to comprehend such precautionary measures normally done for hurricane preparedness would be in place during the large-scale protests/riots in charmingly simplistic Summerville. The citizenry was preparing for a storm all right. A tsunami of anger was rolling through from Charleston, better known as the Holy City. Sadly, no angels of mercy were watching over the historic and seductive city.
Two nights prior on a Saturday evening a monsoon of madness mauled King Street. The major retail thoroughfare of Charleston. Scores of high-end shops, boutiques and eateries are on this boulevard. At $535 a square foot, it’s not pocket change to have a business there. People anxious to get out after being locked down for weeks or months due to COVID19 were patronizing bars and restaurants that were hard hit during the pandemic. Violent protesters were heaving bricks through windows and full-size glass entryways as diners were eating and drinking their corona blues away. Imagine the horror of exploding glass, shards incoming like shrapnel and masked marauders enveloped in black fabric have you fearing for life. Not knowing if you live or die. Sounds like its right out of ISIS movie, and indeed is domestic terrorism. I am angry, mortified, and sadden as is the rest of America at the barbaric extremist actions in the name of police brutality and racial injustice. This is not honoring George Floyd, nor seeking social or criminal justice. It is destroying people’s livelihoods and further deepening the chasm of racism and violence.
I never thought I would see this happen in America after 1968. We caught a glimpse of it again in Los Angeles. I remember it well, the day before my birthday April 29, 1992. Known as the Rodney King riots. When 4 officers from the LAPD were acquitted after using excessive force in the apprehension and arrest of King. That video was seen all over the world, and 3 white cops and 1 Latino were acquitted among a jury of their peers.
Robert Gates, Chief of Police of LAPD was a hardline paramilitary yet unprepared for the violent free for all that gutted LA for 6 days. It took the LAPD, the National Guard, the Marine Corps, yes, they called in the Marines to bring an end to the riots, looting and arson. At the end of it all, 63 people were killed, 2,383 injured, more than 12,000 arrests, and property damage was over $1B. Much of which unjustifiably affected Koreatown, why? We still have not learned to just get along as Mr. King directed us. Now the threat of military intervention looms from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Overshadowing our ivory monuments of freedom and democracy. Blackness swirls over Washington’s obelisk, Jefferson’s dome, and Abe’s throne.
What have we learned from the race riots of 68? What lessons did we miss from LA in 1992? That’s the great, and at times grave thing about history. It shall repeat itself until the lesson is learned. I never thought I’d see the day when sleepy little Summerville would prepare for looters hidden amongst peaceful protesters marching for answers and action regarding George Floyd. I hope America never sees it again.
Taste the Freedom.