Sheriff Leon Lott says Network’s racial profiling project boosts accountability


Richland County Sheriff Lott shared the progress and challenges on racial profiling in South Carolina at the Network’s spring strategy conference in Columbia.

Brett Bursey, executive director of the SC Progressive Network: Sheriff Lott has been a friend of the people for quite some time now. He participated with Joe Neal and I in television work about racial profiling databases in 2001. And Richland County has taken the lead on that. And the sheriff has taken a little bit of time off from campaigning for his, how many terms?

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott: Sixth term.

Bursey: For his sixth term, so he’s obviously doing a good job as Richland County sheriff. So let’s hear it for Leon Lott. (applause)

Sheriff Lott: Thank you.

The problem with all that data is nobody really looks at it, half the agencies don’t turn it in, and it’s not enough data. Back in ’99 and 2000 we were looking at racial profiling and being transparent and creating a citizens advisory council. We required that every deputy, when they stop somebody, they have to call in the stop, location where they stopped them, and why they stopped them. And when they get through with the stop, we have to get the age, race and what they did.

So we have the whole picture, and then our dispatcher takes that and – through the computers we’ve got – we have each officer’s name with the data. And we have somebody look at it; it doesn’t sit there like the state’s data. We have supervisors look at it, and we check our officers. Is this officer working in a Latino community? Who is he stopping? Is he in a white community? Is he in an African -American community? We have to look at what community they work in to determine who’s being stopped. Then you have to look and see are they just stopping one race? One sex?

We actually identified an officer who was stopping Hispanic females, and we saw that there was a problem. So we started pulling his tapes and we found out he was profiling Hispanic females, and actually had him on tape assaulting one. We didn’t just terminate him, we arrested him.

What we were doing in 1999 and 2000 had been so successful with us—Rep. Joe Neal and Brett [Bursey] said we need to do statewide. They started off modeling after what we were doing, but by the time [the bill] got passed it was so watered-down it was basically ineffective. One of the most blatant things that made it ineffective was that people weren’t forced to do it. We had so many agencies that just weren’t turning in the information. Why isn’t there some penalty for not doing it? There wasn’t.

So the law really hasn’t been effective. Rep. Joe Neal, a Richland County representative and one of my close friends, we started back again trying to do something to require agencies to do it. And to give us more information. If you’re just doing it for people who get warning tickets, what about people who are stopped and don’t get a warning ticket? Or that you give an actual ticket to? Where’s the data on them?

So we’re not getting the data on everyone who’s stopped, and that’s what we need-not just a snapshot of a few people who are stopped, but everybody that you stop-and then have it examined. You have to look at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. And when you do that, you’re able to determine if you have racial profiling. That is the only way you’re going to be able to stop it.

We go through the education part of it with our deputies. If they know that we’re not going to tolerate anything like that and that you will be arrested and you will be terminated if they do stuff like that, then they have it in their mind that they can’t do it. But if an agency allows it or doesn’t check, then there’s going to be some officers that are actually going to do it. So you have to start at the agency’s head—the ones who put the word out that this is not going to be tolerated in our agencies.

One of the things we did to help do that was our citizen’s advisory council—27 citizens who represent the diverse community we have in Richland County. We’ve had it for 16 years. They come in and look at all of our internal affairs complaints, all the police shootings, all our policies and procedures, they look at every single thing we do. They have a voice in the sheriff’s department, which is the voice of the citizens of Richland County.

I can’t go around and talk to all 500,000 residents of Richland County, but I can talk to their representatives who represent their community. They see what we do in real live time, not six months later, 10 months, not one year later, but they see it as it happens. If we have a shooting, they’re getting information as soon as I’m getting information so they can take it back to their communities and let communities know what actually happened. They sit on our hiring board.

When you go through to be a deputy, the last thing you do is go before an interview board. There’s five deputies and two representatives from the citizens advisory board, and each one has an equal vote. We want the citizens to see everything we do. The agencies that hide the information are the agencies that are doing something wrong. If you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s absolutely no reason we can’t be open and honest and transparent with every single thing that we do. That’s what we do at Richland County, and I get criticized for it. I get criticized for it by other sheriffs and other chiefs who don’t believe in it. They don’t believe in collecting data on racial profiling. They don’t believe in having a citizen’s advisory council. They’re totally against it.

Sen. [Marlon] Kimpson from Charleston County and Sen. John Scott from Richland County introduced two bills in the current session. One bill was for SLED to have a citizens advisory council. The other bill was for agencies over 300,000 to have a citizen’s advisory council. That got shot down immediately by the Sheriff’s Association and other law enforcement associations because the sheriffs and chiefs said, “We don’t want the citizens to have oversight of what we’re doing.”

That to me is absolutely ludicrous and crazy, and I’m ostracized by my fellow sheriffs because I believe in that. I ain’t changing. I’m not.


Three years ago, I was elected to be president of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association, and I was to take office this July, so I would have been president in ’15 and ’16. After Sen. Kimpson introduced the bill on citizen’s advisory councils, the Sheriff’s Association had a special meeting where they voted me out. They didn’t believe in what I was doing and what I was saying. So I’m not going to be the president, so I can’t help you out on there. But I am going to be your voice and will speak out loud and clear and publicly that we need to do something about the problem in our communities with our law enforcement doing the wrong thing. And we need the citizens to help us police the police. That’s what we need to do. And when we do the right thing, we don’t have to worry about it. And by working together, we can do that.

The racial profiling bill is not going to go anywhere this year. Hopefully by next year we will be able to strengthen it and make it effective like it needs to be. But what you’re doing [through the Network’s racial profiling project] is a start, because if it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have anything. We’re doing what we’re doing because it’s the right thing to do. But without you, we weren’t going to Spartanburg, we weren’t going to Greenville, we weren’t going to these other agencies and asking them the hard questions.

So keep doing what you’re doing, because the good cops don’t mind it one bit. Thank you.


This May 14 speech was transcribed by SC Progressive Network Member Liaison Kyle Criminger and has been edited for length.

Sunday Social May 15 to discuss SC student leaders in 1940s-1960s

youthe conf

Sunday, May 15

The Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights
presents guest speaker
Dr. Bobby Donaldson
at its Sunday Social series
held on occasional Sundays at The Carriage House at the Robert Mills Mansion
1616 Blanding St., downtown Columbia (next to Township Auditorium)

USC Associate Professor of History and lead historian for the Columbia ‘63 Project Dr. Bobby Donaldson will talk about student leaders from the 1940s-1960s, the work of the SC Progressive Democratic Party, and the Southern Negro Youth Congress.

Donaldson will discuss and take questions about the civil rights movement in Columbia in the early 60’s, including the 187 black student’s arrested for praying on the grounds of the State House in 1961, at a time when blacks were not allowed to gather on the grounds. These arrests were the basis for the US Supreme Court ruling Edwards v. SC, which continues to protect citizens’ right to assemble on the State House grounds.

The SC Progressive Democratic Party of the 40s was organized as a multi-racial alternative to the whites-only Democratic Party. The PDP was two decades prior to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that pushed for racial inclusion, with Fannie Lou Hamer gaining the national spotlight at the 1964 Democratic Convention. Modjeska Simkins worked with Osceola McKaine and John McCray, and was the strategist for the party.

The Southern Negro Youth Congress at the Township in 1946 was a highwater event of the human rights movement and a precursor to the modern civil rights movement. W.E.B. DuBoise gave the keynote speech that evening “Behold the Land,” considered his most powerful address. His words are as relevant today as they were then.

Sunday Socials are a free, public component of the Modjeska School, a project of the SC Progressive Network. For details, see, email, or call 803-808-3384.

Modjeska School kicks off Sunday lectures with Ben Tillman scholar Vernon Burton

The Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights

Sunday Socials
on occasional Sundays 4-6pm
The Carriage House at the Robert Mills Mansion
1616 Blanding St., downtown Columbia (adjacent to Township Auditorium)

•  •  •

April 24


Nationally renowned scholar on Pitchfork Ben Tillman and the Jim Crow Constitution of 1895, Dr. Vernon Burton, will lead discussion about our state’s most racist governor and how the rules he championed still affect life in South Carolina.

•  •  •

May 1


Noted author of The Orangeburg Massacre, Jack Bass, will lead discussion after a screening of the hour-long 2009 film Scarred Justice, about the 1968 killings at SC State College.

•  •  •

May 15


USC Associate Professor of History and lead Historian for the Columbia ‘63 Project, Dr. Bobby Donaldson, will lead discussion about student leaders from the 1940s-1960s, the work of the Progressive Democratic Party, and the Southern Negro Youth Congress.

•  •  •

Sunday Socials are a free, public component of the Modjeska School, a project of the SC Progressive Network. For details, see, email, or call SC Progressive Network at 803-808-3384.

Celebrating 20 years of speaking truth to power in the Palmetto State

Reps. Joe Neal and Gilda Cobb-Hunter stopped by the Modjeska House after our regular monthly meeting to toast the SC Progressive Network‘s 20th birthday. They have been our strongest allies in the legislature, and we are grateful for their service in that dysfunctional body.

We are proud of the progress we’ve made, and look forward to many more years of agitating, educating, and mobilizing a people’s movement in South Carolina.





Bullying children in your name

transgender_symbol_poster-r9521e24e98224b29918414be606aee6c_wvw_8byvr_324Dr. John Ruoff
The Rouff Group

There is great kerfuffle around a bill filed last week by Sen. Lee Bright, mirroring North Carolina’s HB2, that would prohibit local governments from legislating on bathroom access for transgender [1] South Carolinians and would require that multiple-occupancy restrooms and changing rooms “shall be designated for and only used by a person based on his biological sex” defined by what is on the person’s birth certificate. It also requires schools to enforce the same limitations.

The bill was assigned to the General Committee because it was drawn to Chapter 9 (Equal Enjoyment and Privileges to Public Accommodations) of Title 45 (Hotels, Motels, Restaurants and Boardinghouses). It amends our laws intended to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. It includes only two members, Bright, and Joel Lourie. Lourie was doubtless recruited because he is not running again and has demonstrated courage to say “No” to crap like this. If we assume that Lourie will vote “No”—call him anyway, where is the majority vote to get this out of committee?

I know that many of you turn to these pages for trenchant analysis laced with biting humor. You can find that on the Internet on this. You can find the Arial cartoon labeling Bright as a horse’s ass. You can follow @PeeWithLee and #PeeWithLee on Twitter. But, frankly, I find not one thing funny in this.

How long in this country will we put up with legislators who think that they can file and pass bills to put the agency of the state at work to deny other people’s humanity? As a cisgender male, I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than to realize as a young person that my gender identity and my sexual equipment were mismatched especially while trying to figure out who I am in the hostile environment of school and with the school required to enforce that mismatch. No wonder so many trans kids suicide.

Aside from the local ordinance preemption, the only enforceable part of this legislation, assuming that we will not station genitalia and birth certificate police outside public restrooms, is the portion affecting schools. In your name and mine, the state would bully children.

And then to stick it in the Code section that only in 1990 put South Carolina on record as outlawing “White” and “Colored” restrooms. It is too scary that if Bright had filed this earlier … which would have taken more imagination than he has demonstrated, it would have flown through this pack of cowards. I don’t think this bill will pass this year. Hopefully, Gov. Nikki Haley saying “I don’t believe it’s necessary” will give some of, to use Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter’s phrase, “the spinally-challenged” members the cover not to feel compelled to once again deny someone’s humanity—to bully children—in order to ensure reelection.

[1] A good guide, especially for cisgender persons, about how to talk and write about these issues is provided by GLAAD.

The Ruoff Group produces a weekly report of State House activities that is indispensable for activists and organizations following legislation. Go to for more information or email for subscription information.

Happy birthday to us! Here’s to 20 more!


April 1996, Penn Center, St. Helena Island, SC

Twenty years ago this month, the SC Progressive Network held its founding conference. The weekend was the culmination of a year of networking, with grassroots activists meeting and talking by phone to organize a statewide coalition.

The idea was to build a unified front to fight the erosion of gains they had worked decades to secure, believing that by joining forces they could leverage each other’s work and strengthen the progressive community in South Carolina. You can read about that weekend in a story that ran in the May 1996 issue of POINT newspaper, one of the vehicles for Network organizing.

That piece quotes Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who was at the conference, along with Rep. Joe Neal, who served as Network co-chair for the first dozen years. He said, “My first philosophy is: don’t agonize; organize. I think this is the first step toward doing that. In the work I do [as a social worker for battered women] we talk about breaking the silence to end abuse. That’s what we have to do here; it’s the same analogy. We need to break the silence.

“We need to get beyond our own groups… and challenge these crazies spewing hateful stuff. You cannot allow them to outwork you. Stop whining and complaining; get out and do something.”

The piece noted that while conservatives have monopolized the public debate, it is power that had been abdicated, not earned. “In truth, most South Carolinians do not participate in the political process. Less than half of us are registered. In the 1994 general elections, according to figures from the state Election Commission, only 34 percent made it to the polls. In the gubernatorial election, David Beasley won with just 17 percent of the state’s voting age population.” [Gov. Nikki Haley won with similarly low numbers.)

“The task for the Network is to reach – and mobilize – the other 83 percent. Once the numbers are crunched, the idea of shaking up the status quo seems a less daunting task.”

The Network has not just survived 20 years, but has thrived. We have done tremendous work on a shoestring budget, and have created a solid foundation that will serve the progressive community well into the future. With your continued help and support, we look forward to many more years of shaking things up and speaking truth to power in South Carolina.

“I’ve never been self promotional,” said Network Director Brett Bursey, “but after 20 years of good and productive work, I think it’s time to take a bow. I’m realizing that my reticence to blow our own horn limits our reach, our recruiting and our fundraising.”

Come help us celebrate at our monthly meeting in Columbia April 12, 7pm, at the Modjeska House, 2025 Marion St. After a brief update on the work we’re doing, we’ll have cake and hoist a glass to toast our success. If you can’t join us, you can let us know you care by sending a gift. Details here.

Thanks, everyone! See you in the trenches.


Network Director Brett Bursey, center, and Reps. Joe Neal and Gilda Cobb-Hunter. See more photos from the Network’s first statewide gathering in our photo album.

What’s news and what’s next in April?

Mark Your Calendar for the Network’s Spring Strategy Conference May 14

This year marks the SC Progressive Network’s 20th year of educating, agitating. We invite you to join us for our annual Spring conference on Saturday, May 14, at the American Postal Workers’ Union Hall in Columbia. The conference will run from 10am through 5pm, with socializing and dinner to follow. Stay tuned for details.

Modjeska School spring classes are in session, and YOU can take advantage of online study guide

The Spring Session of the Modjeska School started March 21, with 31 students enrolled in the 8-week session. While we are working towards having organized, online classes in the coming year, everyone is welcome to the study guides for the eight classes that are being posted HERE. We invite you to take advantage of the readings and videos compiled by the school faculty.

Sunday Social Justice School is a chance for the public to share a deep dive into SC history with the Modjeska School. On April 24, Vernon Burton, the authority on Ben Tillman, leads our discussion about Tillman’s Jim Crow legacy. On May 1, a screening  of “Shattered Justice,” a recent film about the 1968 Orangeburg massacre, will be followed by a discussion about racist violence led by Jack Bass, author of The Orangeburg Massacre. The free gatherings are 4-6pm at the Robert Mills Carriage House, across Henderson street from the Township Auditorium in Columbia. Stay after class for a reception. Questions? Call 803-808-3384.

Photo ID Arms Race

Network Director Brett Bursey testified at an Election Laws Subcommittee in March on a bill to allow concealed weapons permits to serve as voter photo ID. The Network has long argued against the requirement for photo IDs, seeing it as a tool to suppress the vote, especially of elderly black voters.

Bursey pointed out to the committee that 90% of the civilians packing concealed guns in South Carolina are white males over 21. You don’t even have to live in SC to get a CWP, just own property here.

After debate, subcommittee chair Rep. Rick Quinn (R-Lexington) agreed to add, along with CWP permits, government-issued IDs to the list of approved voter IDs. Should the bill make it through the legislature, it will add CWP permits and public school IDs and local government IDs, as acceptable IDs. We’ll consider this a victory.

Racial Profiling Project Update

The Network’s Racial Profiling Project teams have been meeting with sheriffs and chiefs of police across the state to solicit their support for strengthening racial profiling monitoring in SC. A bill written in 2001 by the Network’s director and sponsored by Network Co-chair Rep. Joe Neal to require all cops to report all stops was finally passed in a watered-down version in 2005. The current “Public Contact” law only requires all cops to report warning tickets. Go HERE to see the lists of stops by your local cops on the Dept. of Public Safety web site.

Rep. Neal’s new bill (H-3993) requires all stops be reported, and requires SLED to analyze the data annually and report to the legislature. The new legislation fixes the problem that no agency monitors compliance with the law, and will require the legislature to suspend funding to any police agency not in compliance.

While we need more information about each stop than the race, gender and age than is currently reported, we’ve decided to focus on getting “all stops” legislation passed this session. We have learned that all the police agencies in the state are moving toward an electronic ticketing system that will automatically gather the data we want shared. Nearly 80 of the nearly 300 police agencies that stop citizens already have the laptop, scanner and GPS equipment in their cars that can plug into the “E-Citation”system. A bill has passed the Senate and is in the House to fund the outfitting of the all police cars by 2019.

Our strategy to get the bill passed has been to get the cops’ support first, pointing out that it helps build community trust, lower racial tension and make their jobs safer. The president of the Police Chiefs Association, Lancaster Chief Harlene Carter, and the incoming president of the SC Sheriffs Association, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, have agreed to testify in favor of the bill. The Head of the Dept. of Public Safety and the Highway Patrol has also agreed to support the bill.

Kudos to everyone who has been working on this project. We’re making sound headway.

Go back to school without leaving home


South Carolina sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Charleston abolitionists and early feminists

•  •  •

The SC Progressive Network‘s spring session of the Modjeska School begins Monday, March 21, and runs through June 20. We invite you, no matter where you are, to take advantage of the online study guide.

Brett Bursey, Meeghan Kane, and Graham Duncan have compiled an excellent collection of readings and film documentaries that is free and completely accessible online. Additional study material will be added to the site over the coming months.

This session of the Modjeska School is an organizer/activist training course that studies South Carolina history for students to better understand today’s social and political landscape. This is not a traditional course on SC history, but rather a people’s history of resistance. To be effective organizers, we must understand our past. Classes One through Six will highlight our state’s rich history of both repression and resistance. Classes Seven and Eight will analyze our shared past to help shape current theories, strategies and practices for making progressive change in South Carolina.

Class One Study Guide is HERE.

Spring session class schedule is HERE.

Follow the Modjeska School on Facebook.

Questions? Call 803-808-3384.

Modjeska School is now accepting students to its spring session

placeattable book

“We are really excited about the spring session of the Modjeska School,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “It’s shaping up to be a powerful experience. We have expanded our readings, will have more guest teachers, and are adding a class. We also have built in more time for open discussion.”

The spring session of the Modjeska School will be held every other Monday between March 21 and June 20. The session is limited to 32 students. Preference will be given to SC Progressive Network members who pledge to put their learned organizing skills to work in South Carolina.

Students will meet in the evenings between 6:30pm and 8:30pm at Columbia’s historic Siebles House.


Kyle Criminger, who graduated from the summer session of the Modjeska School, had this to say: “South Carolina community organizers have the complete package in the School: guided study followed by mentorship in the field. In the people’s history lectures and readings, you find a South Carolina you didn’t know existed.

The School is informed by a global analysis of the problems.  It is all one struggle, the struggle for human rights, and we learned again and again the lesson that all of us who are losing must work together to fight our common enemy. Doing the work of organizing our communities means that first we tap into the collective wisdom and experience of those who have come before.

We don’t just just talk about the problems; we’re leveraging effective strategy to get the job done. That means students use “shovel-ready” Network projects, hold work meetings, and then educate, agitate, and organize a community of shared values, a movement with the power to set political priorities that meet everyday South Carolinians’ needs.”

To apply, prospective students must submit a written application and complete a brief telephone interview. (You must download the application to make it interactive.) A $190 tuition fee covers class materials, copies of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History and A Place at the Table: Struggles for Equality in America. Fees may be paid monthly; scholarships are available to those who need help.

If you have problems downloading the application or have any questions, call 803-808-3384. For more about the Modjeska School, visit our web site.


Class 1 – March 21: In the beginning – 1860. Earliest human habitation, through Native presence, the arrival of the White Man, the establishment of the colony by the Barbadians and the development of the slave economy

Class 2 – April 4: 1860-1895: SC’s role in the Civil War. Reconstruction and redemption.

Class 3 – April 18: 1895-1945: 1895 Constitution, redemption, the rise of Jim Crow, the fall of democracy, the New Deal and a world war.

Class 4 – May 2: 1945-1968: Rise of Dixiecrats, SC’s struggle against racial equality and the civil rights movement, the Great Society and the Southern Strategy to end it.

Class 5 – May 16: 1968-1996: Modern movements. Vietnam, United Citizens Party, GROW, gay and women’s liberation movements, Republicans rising, Democrats surrendering and the SC Progressive Network established.

Class 6 – May 23: 1996-2022. (schedule change due to Memorial Day) Progressive Network’s history and future plans. Building political power on changes, opportunities, clever planning and hard work.

Class 7 – June 6: Theories, Strategy and Tactics. What are our sharpest tools for building and sustaining a popular movement for a revolution of social values? What skills do we need, and what resources do we have?

Class 8 – June 20: Enough Theory; Let’s Practice! Students will design and launch an actual organizing project.

Voting system expert to address lawmakers and voting rights advocates Feb. 18


As South Carolina lawmakers deliberate replacing the state’s aging voting machines, Open Source Election Technology Foundation‘s executive director Gregory Miller will address the Joint Committee on Voting Systems Research on Feb. 18, 8:30-10am. He later will meet with voting rights advocates for a luncheon at the SC Progressive Network‘s offices, 2025 Marion St., downtown Columbia.

The Network introduced the open-source, non-proprietary voting technology to the committee at its first – and only – hearing in November. (Story and audio link here.) In 2004, the Network advocated for a voter-verified, paper-based voting system before the state instead opted to buy South Carolina’s current proprietary, paperless system.

“As the state considers buying a new voting system, we are pleased that the committee is hearing about alternatives that promotes transparency rather than secrecy in voting technology,” said Network Director Brett Bursey.

OSET is a non-profit election technology research, development, and education foundation established eight years ago to advance innovation in election administration and voting technology. OSET works under an “open source mandate,” meaning that anything they develop is freely available for any jurisdiction to adopt, adapt, and deploy. It exists to advance the cause of “critical democracy infrastructure” and to catalyze a new model for the important commercial delivery of election technology innovation. At its core, it is about increasing confidence in elections and their outcomes in order to preserve our democracy.

Miller and OSET participants come from many of the well-known household technology brands such as Apple, Google, Netscape, Oracle, and others have become social entrepreneurs in this effort to substantially innovate the systems on which this nation relies to administer elections. OSET has no commercial agenda and is offering to consult with South Carolina legislators, election administrators and citizens, in an intellectually honest manner, on the spectrum of innovation underway.

Download this fact sheet about OSET.

Mr. Miller will meet with voting rights advocates on Thursday from 11:30am – 1pm at the Modjeska Simkins House, 2025 Marion St., in Columbia. Participants are welcome to bring a brown bag lunch or place an order from the No Name deli across the street.

Mr. Miller will be available for media interviews on Thursday after the hearing. Contact the SC Progressive Network at 803-808-3384 or to make arrangements.