I was in Charleston just doing my job. Nothing more.
A veteran WBTV reporter, I was in the city on the afternoon of October 8 to cover the stories connected to Hurricane Matthew.
Instead, I was verbally accosted on Broad Street in front of the Saint John the Baptist Roman Catholic Cathedral by a young man filming a downtown neighborhood with an iPad.
After making comments about my cameraman’s attire, he directed his attention to me, calling me a slave.
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The man, Bryan Eybers, who is white, then used the dreaded, inflammatory N-word.
After a heated verbal exchange caught on tape, Mr. Eybers attempted to detain my cameraman and me by physically blocking our news vehicle.
Officers were called.
He was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and possession of drug paraphernalia.
The opening theme from the 1970s film “Love Story” asks a simple question: Where do I begin?
For me, that is now a perplexing – but necessary – question, after this highly personal, but well publicized event.
So, I begin by asking, what did he see? Why were we targets? And what were his implicit biases?
I’ve had a rewarding life and exciting career that has included producing more than two dozen documentaries connected to the civil rights movement.
None of that mattered to Mr. Eybers.
All he saw was the color of my skin.
But Mr. Eybers’ actions are not the only issue contributing to my frustration.
In several weeks, Dylann Storm Roof goes on trial for the murder of nine people at Mother Emanuel AME Church and former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager heads to court for the death of Walter Scott.
Despite its lush palm trees, nearby beaches and Southern folklore, Charleston historically has been a dividing line when it comes to race in America.
Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, is miles away from the spot of my encounter with Mr. Eybers.
I begin by attempting to find a sense of personal healing.
I didn’t feel the spit of angry protesters that landed on the face of Dorothy Counts as she attempted to enter Charlotte’s Harding High School in 1957.
But I can relate to what she was called and how so many brave and revered individuals like her turned racially charged taunts into a necessary source of strength.
After Mr. Eybers’ words of hate, I have received truly moving words of support and notes of encouragement that demonstrate that people of all walks of life denounce Mr. Eybers’ view of the world.
I begin by finding a sense of understanding the next time I’m followed around a department store by security personnel, or see a white woman clutching her purse in fear while alone on an elevator. Or the next time I’m pulled over by a CMPD officer for driving in the wrong neighborhood late at night, when all I’m trying to do is get home safely after the 11 o’ clock news.
I begin by praying for and forgiving Mr. Eybers and hoping he gets help by enrolling in an anger management program or drug counseling.
I end with an understanding that even though I have a microphone in hand most days and wear nice suits to work, my humanity can be reduced and defined in a split second by those who are in a perceived position of privilege.
Despite my appearance, I too am not immune.
Veteran WBTV reporter Steve Crump has been the recipient of numerous awards for his reporting and documentary work.