Conceding language in their original request was unclear, the co-founders of Greenwood’s Black Lives Matter chapter said Monday they’ll continue to push for a gun buyback program — but one that doesn’t offer amnesty for those tied back to the illegal use of a firearm.
Travis Greene and Bruce Wilson also said they want to see the City Council adopt a hate crime ordinance, and are planning to set up a local office to field concerns from residents.
The men, who spoke to reporters in front of the municipality’s headquarters, hoped to address councilmembers during their regularly scheduled meeting but did not request a spot on the agenda by the previous Wednesday at noon — a long-standing city policy.
“We believe there was a little bit of a mistake with our original proposal, so we wanted to correct that and get a little more definitive answer from the city to see why exactly they would deny something that would probably benefit this community,” said Wilson, of Greenville. “We believe this would be beneficial for the community, especially with some of the violence that’s happened in the community.”
In July, the grassroots organization asked for financial contributions of $5,000 each from city and county leaders to match its fundraising, with the money purchasing gift cards to incentivize the relinquishment of guns to law enforcement officials. BLM said they’re willing to turn over their portion to the city and county to run the program.
Greene, of Greenwood, said removing guns from the streets is a cause “near and dear to my heart.”
“We lose lives here very frequently,” Greene said. “And a lot of them are classmates or family friends, so I feel that it’s imperative we come up with some solution or some proposed solution that would be a remedy to the problem, and we feel a gun buyback would be viable.”
Both City Manager Julie Wilkie and County Manager Toby Chappell rebuffed the proposal, partly because of an implication that turning in a gun would mean escape from arrest or prosecution.
“Any gun turned in will not be subjected to any search or included as evidence in any outstanding murder investigations, rather have the relief of the weapon being in safe hands,” Black Lives Matter wrote over the summer.
“We probably shouldn’t have used that language,” Wilson said Monday. “If that weapon was involved in a homicide or any type of violent act, then anybody who’s associated with that gun is privy to investigation or arrest.”
On Monday, Wilson said he understood “misgivings” public officials may have had based on the initial request, but faulted them for issuing flat denials.
“At the end of the day, there was no dialogue between Black Lives Matter and city, so I think it kind of fell apart. We didn’t get to explain exactly what we were hoping to do,” Wilson said.
Resident Eddie Hodges, who said Monday he was a gun owner and strong supporter of the Second Amendment, believes a buyback program could be effective under the right conditions — but worried about the prospect of lifting punishment for those caught using firearms illegally.
“I like your idea,” he told Wilson. “That was the only thing I was little confused about.”
Greene and Wilson said the idea for a gun buyback has support from the business community — some of whom have offered to back the program — though the men wouldn’t disclose their identities.
“They didn’t want to release the names of the businesses, but I can assure you there are prominent businesses within the community that have been here for quite some years,” Greene said, adding they pledged financial support should the city and county follow suit.
Wilson said the gun buyback is one of several issues Black Lives Matter intends to pursue in Greenwood.
“We’re going to talk about a citizens review board that we believe would be helpful here, we’re going to talk about the gun buyback, we’re going to talk about a hate crimes ordinance for this area. Nothing we do is personal, and it’s all about trying to help the community at the end of the day. A lot of times, people see Black Lives matter and think, ‘Here we go,’ and it’s not like that,” Wilson said. “Come in and get to know us. Don’t just assume.”
Meanwhile, Greene — who was the subject of a lengthy Index-Journal report on Sunday — declined to address questions raised by the newspaper during Monday’s appearance.
Greenwood resident Lesley Lane pressed Greene on some of his interactions with public officials during “First Amendment audits” he posts on YouTube as “South Carolina Accountability Auditor,” asking whether some of those confrontational moments cut into his overall push for reform.
“My purpose here tonight is to address the gun buyback program. My other issue with the article that was published by the Index-Journal will be addressed at a later time. I’m going to address that with them, because that’s where the issue is. I believe in professionalism at all times.”
Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.