Saying YES to de-escalating violence
Pastor Curtis Johnson led a morning workshop today - the national observance of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth - for the first YES conference at Clinton High School. YES is sponsored by District 56 and the Bell Street Concerned Citizens Group. The workshop, from 10 am to 1 pm, had young people and adults, including students from Presbyterian College, examining effective communication with law enforcement and conflict resolution.
Johnson, pastor of Valley Brook Outreach Baptist Church, Pelzer, and the event's guest speaker, was a leader of the 100 Days of Non-Violence movement in Upstate South Carolina, responding to a growing problem of violence in the area.
He and others conducted assemblies in schools and activities that included midnight basketball to stem the tide of violent confrontations among people, and people with the police. Tracking the results, Johnson said there was a corresponding 31% decline in violence during the 100 Days of Violence last year.
Johnson teaches how to survive a traffic stop. "Hush, and live first," he says of how a person should act when he/she is pulled over. "I understand it's all about your rights and all that. But we need to come at it from mutual respect - it does not have to be death and destruction. So that it's not life and death over a speeding ticket.
"Do what it takes to live, not just get your point across."
Arguing with the police, running, touching a police officer - all are conduct that Johnson said can get a person killed. "Stereotyping gets people killed," Johnson said. It can happen when people getting stopped stereotype all officers as being out to get them - it can happen when officers stereotype the people they are stopping as criminals. "That's why body cameras are a good thing - to see the intersection," he said.
"We cannot automatically assume an interaction with the police is going to end dangerously."
Johnson said, "The few bad interactions are the ones that get blown up. Don't escalate the situation so the officer feels you are a danger to him. ... We will never succeed if we teach our kids to disrespect authority."
YES: Youth Empowerment Summit is one of the "A day on. Not a day off" activities planned on and around the four-day MLK Weekend in Laurens County. Presbyterian College students are at 10 locations today for service projects, and at 5 pm during dinner at GDH they will have a chance to report on their activities. A MLK program and Praise Dancers Contest was conducted Saturday at Sanders Middle School in Laurens. The Laurens County Branch National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) staged its 39th Annual Freedom Fund Dinner Saturday night at Laurel Hill Baptist Church in the Waterloo community.
The state NAACP sponsored King Day at the Dome this morning at the Statehouse in Columbia - the first time King Day has been conducted without the Confederate Flag flying in a place of honor of the State Capitol grounds.