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'Money runs everything:' North Charleston crime, poverty a vicious cycle for many

North Charleston crime, poverty a vicious cycle for many (WCIV)

North Charleston is the third largest city in South Carolina, home to more than 100,000 people.

The city once was labeled one of the deadliest in the country.

As of November 2018, there had been 19 murders in the city during the current year, according to the North Charleston Police Department.

That's a drastic decrease from 36 in 2017, but 19 is still too many if you ask those who call the city home.

One of those is Shaquille Moultrie.

The world beyond North Charleston's Union Heights neighborhood was foreign to him. His view of the world was rooted there.

“The first time I left Charleston is when I graduated from high school and I went to Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College,” says Moultrie.

He grew up in a house with his grandmother and cousins on Arbutus Avenue.

“As I got to middle school, I lived here because my mother didn’t have a car to bring me back and forth down here," Moultrie said. "Growing up with my mother, she always cooked, always had clean clothes (for us), but she was just at work all the time."

"As a child, I didn’t understand (why) she was working at first. I used to think she didn’t wanna be a home, but she had to work because she had to provide for me.”

Moultrie believes his neighborhood has the potential to blossom, has the heart to bloom, but it comes down to money.

“Here, money runs everything," says Moultrie. "When you don’t have no money, your mind starts to wander, you start to think about anything and basically, there’s no telling, you’ll start to do anything just for some money, because you don’t have it.”

Moultrie's mother worked all the time to earn money. Others turned to different means.

“Every drug dealer, I ran across growing up in my life, he'd always tell me, 'This is not the way, this is not the way to go, you need to stay in school,' he wished he had stayed in school," Moultrie said.

But the routine of school and importance of academics were never enforced in Moultrie's home.

“I never grew up liking school, because some of my older cousins, they wasn’t in school so I wanted to hurry up and get home so I can see them," Moultrie said. "And then a lot of times with the clothes situation, I didn’t really have enough shoes and clothes to make it through the year so sometimes, I didn’t want to go.”

Despite this, Moultrie says he’s never used a gun, and has never sold drugs, yet his family has not escaped the horrors of violence.

He was just seven years old, but Moultrie remembers it like yesterday.

“They came in through the back door, kicked the back door in, hit my grandmother in the back of the head with a rifle and went upstairs to kill my cousin,” Moultrie says.

Christopher Briggman, a counselor in North Charleston, says exposure to such things likely has created a justifiable mindset among people choosing to commit crimes in North Charleston.

“It becomes a little bit more acceptable when you’ve seen your cousins, uncles, even close family friends being locked up," Briggman says. "They’re in and out of jail, and they’re out for a couple of weeks and they’re locked back up. It becomes the norm.”

Part of Briggman’s work is teaching people how to get and keep jobs. He also works with families who are struggling to buy the basics.

“They’re not going to look at (crime) as negatively as someone who does have a proper income, or can buy groceries, or can pay for daycare for their kid, or can pay to get their car fixed so they can get to and from work,” Briggman says.

Briggman believes priorities for addressing the issue must be placed on education and maintaining gainful employment.

As of September 2018, the city of North Charleston had the highest unemployment rate in Charleston County at 3.1 percent. The county's overall unemployment rate was 2.7 percent.

“They want jobs that they’re going to be able to put their kids in better schools with, provide their kids with equipment, and clothing and support their needs, but you have a lot of individuals that are working two and three jobs with four or five kids,“ Briggman added.

Nashonda Hunter with the Charity Foundation in Liberty Hill is hoping to get kids more prepared for college and jobs while they’re still in grade school.

The solution starts with a feeder pattern of science, technology, engineering and math education in elementary, middle and high schools, Hunter says.

"When they graduate, they’ll be ready to go to work, and be a part of skilled, well trained workforce for North Charleston Area businesses,” Hunter says.

Moultrie says he wishes he had those skills before leaving home, but he’s still on track to graduate from college soon, and will be the first in his family to do so.

His entire neighborhood is rooting for him, Moultrie says.

“They're looking forward to me making it so I can help them. The goal is to bring the ladder back so I can help everyone. First they understand that I've got to help myself first.”

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