Saturday rally takes big-picture approach to anti-violence effort

Pastor Thomas Dixon speaks during a July news conference on the death of Denzel Curnell.

Activists, a state lawmaker and loved ones of homicide victims will take up a wide range of community dilemmas Saturday during an anti-violence rally in downtown Charleston.

The two-hour event, "The Lowcountry Speaks Out Against Violence," at 11 a.m. on the steps of the Charleston Customhouse at East Bay and Market streets, comes on the heels of a 40 percent spike last year in tri-county-area homicides.

Pastor Thomas Dixon, co-founder of The Coalition: People United to Take Back Our Streets, said the speakers will address topics such as bullying, domestic violence and homicides between members of all races.

While the rally will hit on the public outcry over the police-involved deaths of black men in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, and the "black lives matter" movement they spawned, Dixon said that attacking violent crime requires everyone to realize that "all lives matter." That's why, he said, the demonstration will not focus on a particular issue. Addressing only the perception of racial profiling by police agencies, for example, won't solve the problem, Dixon explained.

"People will look at one piece of the puzzle instead of looking at all the pieces and figuring out how to put them together," he said. "Any life lost due to violence is wrong. Until we all realize that, we won't understand what connects us."

Mothers who make up the "Tri-County 15," all of whom have lost sons or daughters to violence in recent years, will be there. The pastor said he plans to read some of the names of the 66 people who were slain last year in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. It was greater Charleston area's the highest annual homicide tally since 2007.

Nearly 79 percent of the victims in 2014 were black.

Denzel Curnell, a 19-year-old black man, was not one of those homicide victims, but Dixon said his community on Charleston's peninsula has lingering concerns about the circumstances of his death, which was ruled a suicide.

Some residents criticized a police officer's reasons for stopping Curnell on the night he died in June. Curnell had been loitering in a private community, the police said, and wearing a hooded sweatshirt despite the heat.

The case partially inspired a proposal from Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, for the General Assembly to form a study committee on police racial profiling statewide. Legislators and the governor would have to approve the resolution.

Both Kimpson and Curnell's stepfather, Dwayne German, plan to attend Saturday's demonstration.

Though he faulted the authorities for how they investigated his stepson's death and handled the public release of information in the case, German stressed that he supported the police for doing an often thankless job.

"But I do not approve of a lot of the methods the police are using," he said. "Their methods can further promote discord and discontent in the black community."

Virginia College professor Damon Fordham; Christopher Cason, a member of Dixon's coalition; and domestic violence survivor Danielle Richardson, who was featured in The Post and Courier's "Till Death Do Us Part" series, will be there.

They will discuss possible solutions for stopping the bloodshed, Dixon said. Those ideas include redefining the term "snitching," the practice of relaying suspect information to the authorities, and targeting illegal gun possession.

The rally will include music and poetry, Dixon said.

"We'd be remiss if we just put our problems out there in people's faces without offering solutions," Dixon said. "This violence can strike any one of us at any given time."

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.