The ninth police chief of North Charleston, S.C., is a Black man named Reggie Burgess. The 52-year-old native will replace former Chief Eddie Driggers, who came under fire after a White officer killed 50-year-old Black unarmed motorist Walter Scott on April 7, 2015. Burgess is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday and couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity.
“Becoming the police chief of the city of North Charleston is truly a blessing,” Burgess said per the Post and Courier.
“Mayor Summey has entrusted me to positively motivate, to influence, to lead and guide the Police Department personnel, and to improve the quality of life for the citizens of North Charleston.”
Burgess is more than qualified for the job. He is a 28-year veteran of the North Charleston Police Department (NCPD). Burgess played football at Morgan State, a historically-Black university in Maryland, and went on to earn a degree from Claflin University double-majoring in criminal justice and sociology. He rose up through the ranks of the NCPD to become the assistant chief of police. Burgess has held the post since 2013.
Since the Scott shooting, community activists have called for Chief Driggers to resign. He served as chief for five years, but struggled to impact violent crime on the part of criminals and the police force alike. Driggers told reporters that the video which captured Officer Michael T. Slager firing his gun at a fleeing Scott eight times “sickened” him, according to The New York Times.
Slager was not utilizing a body camera. Had it not been for witness testimony and video, Scott’s family was convinced that the officer would have faced no charges. The community’s sentiment was that these incidents were nothing new, but they had to stop. Driggers needed to go.
Mayor Keith Summey has offered his full vote of confidence saying that Burgess is passionate about his hometown, knowledgeable about good policing, and can help improve community relations. City Councilman Ron Brinson agrees that Burgess is the right man for the job. “I think everybody has been impressed with Reggie for a long, long time,” Councilman Brinson said.
“He’s a good communicator and seems to have a real sensibility about him. Reggie, on his merits, deserves this.”
But while he may be qualified, some worry that Burgess might not be given a fair shot at doing the job the way he sees fit. Activists say that the relationship between the police and the Black community in North Charleston is volatile. Using Burgess as a pawn or a photo op won’t solve the crime problems in a city that is 47 percent Black, as reported by Post and Courier.
“North Charleston should not have lily-White department when you have all these problems in the Black community,” Dot Scott of the local NAACP chapter said.
“But I’m concerned that this is for optics. I hope it’s not.”
But Burgess wants to live his dream of making his community a safe place to live. This is a longtime wish since his childhood. “When I was a teenager, growing up in various neighborhoods in North Charleston, there was a television show called ‘SWAT,'” Burgess said.
“Although it was Hollywood fiction, the show created a spark for me to explore serving my community through police work, to protect all who felt victimized. I knew becoming a police officer would allow me to have a direct impact on improving my city and the neighborhoods where I grew up.”