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Residents walk to take back their streets

(L-R) Eric Campbell, Jamie Bunton, Judy Bridge, Bishop Taylor

(L-R) Eric Campbell, Jamie Bunton, Judy Bridge, Bishop Taylor

About 250 people poured onto Walterboro’s inner-center streets Saturday morning to take back their streets from a recent slew of shootings and crime. “The march itself is a visual showing that the community is taking back its community. The churches’ job is to reach the people,” said Eric Campbell, a local pastor and spokesperson for United Colleton, a group comprised of churches and community leaders who want to take back the community and send out a positive message. “It’s the power of unity,” Campbell said of Saturday’s walk. “The pastors have been meeting and praying since May, and this was a God-led event. There is power in us coming together.”

Jennifer Crosby and Gwen Bunton representing Bank of Walterboro. Photos by Michelle Davis

Jennifer Crosby and Gwen Bunton representing Bank of Walterboro. Photos by Michelle Davis

The force behind United Colleton is the Colleton Business Alliance, a group of about 12 business leaders in Colleton County who want to change the community for the better. “I’ve had people from Washington and New York ask me about this community’s crime. And people in Charleston think we are a hot bed,” said Barnwell Fishburne, a businessman in the business alliance and one of the founding members of the United Colleton movement. “The reputation of the town and the county has been so degraded by the reputation of gang violence, that I believe every businessman feels it,” he said. About 400 people attended the post-walk event, which offered free food and events for children, according to Fishburne.

As a Colleton native, Fishburne’s love for his community is the bubbling motivation to see positive change. But his business sense adds heat to his fire. Fishburne is a realtor, and owns several businesses in Walterboro city limits near Interstate 95. He has seen first-hand the impact that Walterboro’s recent crime spree has had on the business community. According to Fishburne, travelers have voiced their concerns about Walterboro’s crime rate to hotel and gas station employees, with many refusing to stay overnight in the town. “We are making it public knowledge that the town and its people are going to an extraordinary effort to take this town back,” he said.

DSC_0302_1Saturday’s march was not just a silent showing of change. Fishburne and other alliance members handed out information to the public on Saturday on available grant funds, and on mentoring programs being offered at Colleton High School.

They also gave the public a survey asking what each resident needs most to make their community a better, and safer, place to live.

Besides sponsoring public events, like Saturday’s march, the alliance is also working behind the scenes to push Colleton out of its crime wave. They are meeting with legislators to discuss how to best punish criminals. They are also getting more involved in law enforcement and are working with Lowcountry-area media outlets to push for more responsible journalism. “This group wants to focus on jury education, and to have conversations with magistrates and legislators,” said Fishburne. “We want to get the message across that you will be punished for your crimes in our community, and that this community is comprised of more than the sensationalized acts of violence.”

Fishburne says the group’s “first hurdle” of having “accountable and professional law enforcement” has already been jumped. He praises the county sheriff’s office and the city police force for being involved in the community. “It’s awareness – to regain trust in our law enforcement throughout the community,” he said. Fishburne says the group’s next big move is to advertise the Crime Stoppers in the Lowcountry, a community-based crime prevention group that he wants Walterboro’s residents to get involved with. Fishburne says he wants people to be able to report crime without fear of retribution from the criminals – or the gangs they are associated with. Billboards are going up soon across the community to advertise this group’s presence in Colleton County, he said.

DSC_0086So far, the Colleton Business Alliance has spent about $5,000 in its crime-fighting efforts, with Fishburne trying to recruit more business leaders to get involved. The group paid for Saturday’s food (hundreds of hot dogs), information material and T-shirts given to participants. They are also paying for marketing materials and for weekly planning meetings to keep the group going. “We want to offer a solution,” said Fishburne.

Another march could be coming in the next several months, said Fishburne. But Campbell says the churches and pastors in the county will continue praying and seeking God’s guidance about what will occur next in the “United Colleton” movement. Campbell believes this outreach will change the community one person at a time, and Fishburne believes the change in attitude will have a direct impact on lowering crime and improving business. “It’s going to be at least a two-year strong surge of heavy participation and heavy publicity … we will see the reputation of the town improve and we will see the business community improve,” Fishburne said.

Heather Walters (1494 Posts)