NAACP's goal still equal justice for all

Charleston NAACP branch President Dot Scott talks about the death of Denzel Curnell during a news conference in June. (Andrew Knapp/File)

Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott's recent column on the death of Denzell Curnell generated several letters to the editor. One questioned why Mr. Curnell was carrying a weapon. Another criticized state Sen. Marlon Kimpson for "bowing to pressure from local groups" and asking for a Senate investigation of possible racial profiling by the Charleston Police Department.

Another questioned why the NAACP doesn't condemn violence or work with the community to combat the shootings of young black men by other young black men. He also commended the local chapter of the National Action Network for working in the community to combat violence and appearing at a press conference with local law enforcement and elected officials, and challenged NAACP President Scott to do the same.

As to why Mr. Curnell had a weapon, we'll never know because he can't answer. What we do know is that he was confronted by a Charleston police officer and that as a result of that confrontation, he's dead.

The living can, however, answer questions. That was the point of Ms. Scott's column. There are still unanswered questions and gaps in the information on the events surrounding Mr. Curnell's death. His family and the community deserve answers.

As to Sen. Kimpson's request for a Senate review of the Charleston police policy that encouraged the confrontation with Mr. Curnell, he did what good elected officials should do.

He assertively responded to a horrendous event in his Senate district to assure that his constituents' constitutional rights are protected. That hardly qualifies as "bowing to pressure from local groups" - especially since Sen. Kimpson is a life member of the NAACP.

As to whether the NAACP should condemn violence and work in the community to combat it, our mission is "... to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race based discrimination."

We don't have to condemn community violence because we never endorsed it.

Many of our members work to combat violence through their membership in other organizations and houses of faith, but our mission is to see that all citizens have equal justice under the law.

We often meet with local law enforcement agencies to resolve questions of equal justice that never get public attention. When those cases can't be resolved or leave lingering questions of propriety, we make the public aware of our concerns and seek other means of resolution.

That's why we're referring the Curnell case to the United States Department of Justice.

Mr. Curnell's death is the worst example of what can happen when any citizen is singled out for police scrutiny because of racial stereotypes.

Labeling young black men wearing hoodies and long-sleeved clothing in the summertime - or because of their skin color regardless of their dress - as gang members or criminals is as wrong as labeling white men with Confederate flags as tattoos or on their clothing or vehicles as racist skinheads, crystal meth users, potential mass murderers or Ku Klux Klansmen.

Law enforcement officers have the awesome responsibility of protecting and serving the community. The Charleston Branch NAACP supports those who do so in a fair and impartial manner and who work with the communities they serve to make a positive difference.

Their doing so, however, requires a level of community trust that's been damaged by the Curnell case and other instances of racial profiling. That's why those who lodged complaints with NAACP "one-on-one" hesitated to do so in a town hall meeting with law enforcement officers present.

As one young man who's been pulled over seven times in the past few months told me, "They might remember what I said when they pull me over again, and I don't want to get shot."

When the Charleston Police Department releases information to resolve the lingering concerns about Denzell Curnell's death and treats every citizen with dignity and respect, there'll be greater community confidence and concrete cooperation in combating violence.

All law enforcement agencies should also assure that their internal affairs complaint procedures engender community respect instead of community suspicion, for even when it comes to what police officers and elected officials do - beyond speaking in platitudes and planning benign community events to pacify those they'll later racially profile - actions speak louder than words.

The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.