Emily Allen Published

Charleston Mayor Launches Community Outreach And Empowerment Council


Charleston city leaders launched an advisory group to advocate for marginalized communities on Tuesday.

According to a written statement from Mayor Amy Goodwin, the city’s new Council for Outreach and Empowerment will “cultivate relationships, advocate on behalf of Charleston citizens and create additional opportunities for community input.”

The group – called C-COrE for short – consists of at least 30 members including the mayor and a five-person leadership team. Members hope to have their first meeting within the next couple of weeks.

C-COrE will foster transparency, demonstrate sensitivity to various community concerns, cultivate public trust, advocate for marginalized communities and strengthen ties to various cultural, educational, religious, social, economic and civic entities, according to a list of objectives from the city.

Goodwin told West Virginia Public Broadcasting on Tuesday she began having conversations with leaders who are now C-COrE members last fall, following an incident during which Charleston police officers forcefully arrested Freda Gilmore, a Black woman whose family said she was hospitalized for the injuries.

“When the issues surrounding Freda Gilmore came up, we called the RESET team,” Goodwin said, referring to a group of local clergy and public officials formed in 2014, in response to protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of Michael Brown.

“We met within 12 to 24 hours. We sat down, we had conversations with them, we had conversations with the police department,” Goodwin said. “But what we found out very quickly was that system was very myopic. Administration, police, and a couple of faith-based community members were not everybody we needed to have around the table.”

C-COrE’s roughly 30 members include faith leaders, mental health and addiction experts, housing advocates, workforce specialists and more, all of whom Goodwin said she hopes will work proactively versus reactively.

Last Monday, the Charleston City Council agreed to pay an $80,000 settlement to Gilmore, who police forcefully arrested in October.

Videos on Facebook and dash-camera footage show one patrol officer, Carlie McCoy, had Gilmore on the ground when patrol officer Joshua Mena arrived at the scene, following McCoy’s requests for backup. 

Mena hit Gilmore’s face with his closed fist four times, and tried to hit her with his knee, according to video and police reports. An internal investigation later found Mena’s actions followed the city’s use of force police.

McCoy said in police reports that Gilmore was involved in an altercation outside Family Dollar. The city has agreed to drop misdemeanor charges against Gilmore, including one for obstruction. 

Gilmore’s family told West Virginia Public Broadcasting in November their daughter was hospitalized following the incident for facial injuries.

“I feel that the city administration worked out an agreeable solution with Gilmore and I’m pleased that there was a settlement,” Goodwin said Tuesday.

LaKeisha Barron-Brown, from the C-COrE leadership team, said the group will address all community concerns and issues, not just those tied to law enforcement or race.

“Some of the other issues that we would like to address are the mental health issues that we know are plaguing our community,” Barron-Brown said. “Oftentimes when people think of mental health, you know, they may not have a true understanding of what that is.”

A mental health professional, Barron-Brown said she looks forward to finding new ways to support people in Charleston dealing with homelessness, or Charleston residents facing co-occurring disorders in mental health and addiction. 

Goodwin said she wants the group to be community-driven, but she said she anticipates members will address requests that came up last fall, following Gilmore’s arrest.

The #KeepUsSafeCharlestonWV coalition asked in October that the city finish implementing an anti-racism platform the city started a few years ago and never completed.

There also were requests that the city review and update its use of force policy for police, which was last updated in 2003. 

Goodwin said the city referred the incident to the FBI in November. Both Mena and McCoy work for the police department, following less than a week of paid administrative leave.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.