S.C. reporter shares year of tragedy

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People protest the shooting of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer during a demonstration against police violence April 8 in front of North Charleston City Hall. Photographer and former student Paul Zoeller of the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., will speak at the opening ceremony of Black History Month at 10:50 a.m. today in the auditorium of McAllister Fine Arts Center.  Paul Zoeller

People protest the shooting of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer during a demonstration against police violence April 8 in front of North Charleston City Hall. Reporter Christina Elmore and photographer and former student Paul Zoeller of the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., will speak at the opening ceremony of Black History Month at 10:50 a.m. today in the auditorium of McAllister Fine Arts Center. Paul Zoeller

Samariah Johnson, 6, watches from under a tent as rain falls during funeral services for Cynthia Hurd, librarian and community leader, June 27, at Emanuel AME Church.  Paul Zoeller

Samariah Johnson, 6, watches from under a tent as rain falls during funeral services for Cynthia Hurd, librarian and community leader, June 27, at Emanuel AME Church. Paul Zoeller

Charleston pair to discuss year of covering race hate crimes.

By Wally Perez

gperez239@student.alamo.edu 

Last year, the city of Charleston, S.C., was a focus of national headlines and media when the city experienced racial issues, violence and heartbreak that began when white North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shot and killed unarmed African-American Walter Scott.

President Barack Obama hugged members of the Pinckney family June 26, in Charleston. Obama delivered the eulogy for Sen. Clementa Pinckney, at his funeral.  Paul Zoeller

President Barack Obama hugged members of the Pinckney family June 26, in Charleston. Obama delivered the eulogy for Sen. Clementa Pinckney, at his funeral. Paul Zoeller

Reporter Christina Elmore of the Post and Courier, who has been on the frontlines of some of these stories, will share her experiences during the opening ceremony of Black History Month at 10:50 a.m. Monday in the auditorium of McAllister Fine Arts Center.

Elmore, a native of Charleston, graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2011 and has been a crime reporter for the Post and Courier for the past five years.

Elmore is no stranger to racial tension, having lived in a region where racism dates back hundreds of years, and is still palpable.

An honor guard from the South Carolina highway patrol removes the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds July 10 in Columbia, S.C.  Grace Beahm

An honor guard from the South Carolina highway patrol removes the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds July 10 in Columbia, S.C. Grace Beahm

“I grew up here … I attended college in Columbia, S.C., I’ve been around racial conflicts but even then, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t faze me,” Elmore said.

Elmore was the first reporter from the Post and Courier to respond to the April 4 shooting of Scott and said the scene seemed stranger than normal.

“I arrived that morning when the incident occurred and noticed there were more officers than usual and there weren’t a lot of details that had been disclosed,” she said.

It wasn’t until an African-American man claiming to be Scott’s cousin noticed Elmore and filled her in on what had happened.

“He introduced himself and seemed just as confused as I was,” she said. “He then invited me to Scott’s fiancee’s home where I met some of his family members who all seemed confused and heartbroken, stating that it all seemed odd.”

They found it hard to believe that Scott could do anything to deserve being killed.

 Courtesy

Courtesy

“It was hard covering all aspects of that story,” Elmore said. “The whole newsroom was scrambling to make sure we had all the details and we were up to date with any information.”

“Then, just when you think you have some time to breathe, another incident occurs.”

Elmore referred to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting June 17.

During a Bible study, Dylann Roof, 21, shot and killed nine African-Americans, later admitting that he was trying to ignite a race war.

“It was difficult to witness these tragedies happening one after another … you never expect something like this to happen, even though they happen every day across the world,” Elmore said.

Jennifer Pinckney and daughters, Eliana and Malana, watch as an honor guard carries Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Reverend of Emanuel AME Church, into the Statehouse in Columbia, June 24.  Lauren Prescott

Jennifer Pinckney and daughters, Eliana and Malana, watch as an honor guard carries Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Reverend of Emanuel AME Church, into the Statehouse in Columbia, June 24. Lauren Prescott

“This story in particular was one of the hardest I had to cover,” she said. “I remember all of us in the newsroom watching the coroner announce the names of the victims, and after the fourth name, I lost it.”

Elmore finally reached a point where she couldn’t hold back her tears and had to take a moment to compose herself.

After these shootings, Elmore was emotionally and physically drained.

“These are people that had their own lives, families, friends and maybe children,” she said. “I don’t know these people personally. I don’t attend that church, but I am a member of this community. I am a black woman.”

It could have easily been her or a family member, she said.

Elmore said that although these stories have taken a toll on her and fellow staff members, as a reporter you have to carry yourself with professionalism and not let your emotions or opinions get in the way.

“I’m a reporter first — I have to take myself out of the situation,” she said. “Although there’s no escaping my feelings, I need to stay objective no matter the story.”

The events fueled the debate over use of the Confederate flag. When the Confederate flag was taken down from the statehouse, Elmore said many people were present expressing their views on the situation — some for, some against.

“I talked to a gentleman who thought the flag would never come down — stating that many people have died over it,” Elmore said. “Then, on the other side you have people who support the flag and were vocal about their opinions.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley would go on to remove the Confederate flag from state Capitol grounds.

Among these events, another had hit South Carolina that some cities weren’t prepared for.

In October, flash floods hit Charleston and South Carolina, leaving the city under 2 feet of water in some areas. “Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it does,” Elmore said.

The historic flooding swept through cities, which hit some harder than others. Columbia, for example, wasn’t prepared for this type of disaster; people didn’t know how to deal with it, she said.

“Some people assumed that their insurance covered the flood damages, only to realize that it didn’t,” Elmore said. “It was just an incredibly difficult year for everyone there.”

Even though it’s a new year, Elmore said these stories are far from over.

“We’re still in the middle of it. … Dylann Roof is still in jail awaiting trial. Officer Slager was recently let out on bond awaiting his trial,” she said. “People are very involved and concerned on the outcome of these cases. There is still a lot to be covered.”

Elmore hopes the new year will be nowhere near as devastating as the last.

“I made a conscious note to take a step back, breathe and take a mental break to regroup for as long as I can,” she said.

“It’s hard to imagine that anything can top 2015 for Charleston and it’s hard to imagine moving forward,” Elmore said. “This was the most difficult year of my career, but there’s still work to be done.”

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