Aiken city leaders, Black Lives Matter group prepare to discuss national race issues

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AIKEN, S.C. – (WJBF) – A local group spent Tuesday evening organizing to shed light on racial inequality.  Those folks are with Black Lives Matter Aiken Movement and its assemly comes just 24 hours before city leaders speak out.

NewsChannel 6 spoke with Mayor Rick Osbon ahead of his Wednesday afternoon press conference with city council and other local leaders. He shared why he chose to react to the widespread calls for racial equality.

“I think it’s too easy for silence to be misconstrued as consent,” he said.

Protesters raised their voices across the country and in the CSRA loud enough to get the attention of Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon.

He said his address will include one critical point, “That we let our city know that we’re not going to stand for injustice.  That we’re not going to support this.”

Mayor Osbon plans to join City Council members and other local leaders, both black and white, for a news conference Wednesday at 4:00 p.m.  This comes more than a week after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and after several nights of unrest in cities across the country.  

Several groups have held demonstrations in Augusta, Evans and Aiken although those have been peaceful.  And the mayor said messages such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘No Justice No Peace’ along with law enforcement issues will not go unheard.

“We actually have a Citizens Review Board for if there are complaints that are filed against our public safety that goes before a very diverse group.  They review the findings from an audit and report back to the City Manager and the Chief.,” he said.

That board is no doubt critical during a time when those who are angry cite police brutality and in custody deaths as a major problem among African Americans.  Mayor Osbon said the city council is the most diverse that it has been, but he knows leading a city of 31,000 people means there is still work to be done.

“We certainly have things in place,” he said.  “It doesn’t mean we can’t improve.  We certainly can and we recognize that.  We want to put things in place whether it be evaluating hiring policies to treating our citizens equitable.”

Watching that leadership will be many black citizens who have already organized via social media.  Black Lives Matter Aiken Movement took part in Black Out Tuesday June 2, pledging not to post on social media, suspending all music streams, meetings and focus on ways to help the community including learning more about race relations. But Wednesday, that group and others can expect local leaders to begin to address concerns.

“People will see a city council and city leadership committed to finding action items to make things and make changes better,” Mayor Osbon said.

The Black Lives Matter Aiken Movement plans to meet at Odell Weeks Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. to organize, make signs and prepare for a protest on Saturday.

The mayor’s press conference will be Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. at the Lessie B. Price Aiken Senior and Youth Center.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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