Marchers decry violence, call for unity at SC 'Black Lives Matter' rally

By Jonathan McFadden

Frederick Love hoisted his 5-year-old son onto his shoulders and, as he wiped the sweat away from his brow, joined in the cry that bellowed through downtown York, S.C., Sunday evening: “Stop the Violence.”

Nearly 200 other people followed behind, howling the same refrain as they marched to the small city’s public library, a contingent of police officers guiding the way and suppressing traffic.

“No justice, no peace,” they chanted. “Hands up, don’t shoot” came next. Some in their number carried signs emblazoned with the names Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland. Others clutched their cellphones and kept their fingers on “record.”

Frederick Love (foreground at right) and his son Jonathan listen to politicians and organizers give speeches outside the York Public Library.

Frederick Love (foreground at right) and his son Jonathan listen to politicians and organizers give speeches outside the York Public Library.

And Love, whose son, Jonathan, cradled the back of his neck, kept up with the brisk pace despite the unrelenting humidity.

Although Jonathan may not quite understand what would drive his father to walk on asphalt and pavement when it’s over 80 degrees outside, Love says the two have already started “the talk” — the one in which Love tells young Jonathan that, because of his skin color, his interactions with police will be different, tense even.

“I tell him that if we get stopped by the police, keep your hands on your head” the whole time, Love said. Even if the police are wrong, he tells his son, comply so he will “live through it.”

“We need to make a change,” Love said. “There’s too much violence.”

That’s what marchers hoped to dispel Sunday as they gathered at a recreation field in York, a small city in western York County, S.C., about 40 miles outside Charlotte.

Christened as a “Black Lives Matter Stop the Violence” demonstration, the rally aimed to discourage police killings of black men but also rail against black-on-black crime and bring attention to York’s own unsolved homicides. That includes the April death of E’monnie Dixon, a 17-year-old student and mother from Rock Hill, S.C., fatally shot in York’s “Valley” neighborhood, where drugs and violence have long overlapped.

Led by a group of young people, the marchers took to the streets, wielding their signs and voices. Faces in the crowd were a mix of black, white and brown. Some passersby joined while volunteers at a community church handed out bottled water.

On the periphery stood a group of people holding “All Lives Matter” signs.

The stride ended at the public library where, in a series of speeches, organizers and politicians addressed the violence that has rippled through their own community.

Flanked by community activists, clergy and city leaders, York Police Chief Andy Robinson praised the crowd for standing together in efforts to reduce violence. 

“The loss of any life is a tragedy and I will not say anything to detract from that,” he said. Yet, “violence is not the answer.”

Hours before the pre-planned walk in York, the nation reeled from yet another shooting when an assailant opened fire on six Baton Rouge, La., police officers, killing three and wounding the others, authorities said. A suspect, identified as 29-year-old Gavin Long, was shot and killed at the scene, according to the Associated Press.

Anthony Hart carries a sign that reads, "I AM Philando Castile" and describes the reported circumstances of his death in St. Paul, Minn.

Anthony Hart carries a sign that reads, "I AM Philando Castile" and describes the reported circumstances of his death in St. Paul, Minn.

Discussion on the intersection of race, police and violence has been thrust into the national spotlight since the deaths of two black men earlier this month at the hands of police. Alton Sterling, of Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile, of St. Paul, Minn., died within a day of each other.

Their deaths, authorities say, prompted a retaliatory attack on police in Dallas during a peaceful protest, where sniper Micah Johnson killed five officers and injured nine others.

Marchers in York kept that in mind as they condemned those killings and urged the crowd to reach out with love and seek unity. There was talk of black men staying out of jail and keeping their families intact. Many decried black-on-black crime in their neighborhoods and acknowledged that they must point a critical finger at themselves — not just the police.

“We get caught up in labels and sometimes we let labels dictate our emotions,” said Anthony Hart, who joined in leading the march. He addressed men and fathers in particular, saying, “we have to step up to protect our sisters.”

After introducing the crowd to the slain Dixon’s infant son, the Rev. Persell Ross exhorted marchers to make concerted efforts at staving off discrimination and division, saying “if we don’t do it for anybody...let’s do it for the babies.”

His comment evoked raucous cheers as he prayed over the crowd.

“We want to push for love, peace and solidarity,” he said. “We are humanity. Let’s stop hurting one another.”