Despite Gov. Nikki Haley’s wishes, there was a diverse crowd of protesters, onlookers and hecklers at the Statehouse Saturday afternoon. Two controversial groups with race-based agendas held back-to-back rallies there lasting five hours.
A few blocks away, at weekly Saturday Main Street market, the shopping crowd quickly dwindled at rally time. The popular Soda City
usually sees at least a couple of thousand customers, but Ken Dubard, co-owner of the Congaree Milling Company said today his sales
were down 20 percent.
Today I think we’ve experienced a negative impact on our business because of the violence that is often associated with the Klan, and the Black Panthers,” Dubard said.
“Neither one of them is from South Carolina, so why are they here?” said State Senator Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, in an interview with SCRN. “South Carolina has handled our issues very, very well and we don’t need somebody else coming here and stirring up problems because South Carolina has shown grace and peace through these whole issues and let’s continue that.”
The protest events happened as planned however, beginning at about noon, with speeches from the Black Lawyers for Justice and the New Black Panther Party.
There were a few hecklers in the crowd of about 300– not counting media and pedestrian onlookers– and a handful of people holding the Confederate Battle Flag.
Participants in the earlier rally waved the Pan-African flag, the symbol of black liberation, and shouted “Black agenda united” and “We want justice.”
Former New Black Panther Party national leader and now president of the Black Lawyers for Justice, Malik Zulu Shabazz spoke to the crowd by phone, saying Pan-African, not the American flag was the only true banner to follow. Shabazz says he is unable to travel because he is on a federal watch list.
“I have been detained by the enemy, not the one who has a Confederate flag, but the one that has the red, white and blue, the big enemy,” Shabazz said. He told the crowd he was detained at the airport.
The temperature peaked at 95 degrees and contributed to a handful of people being treated for heat exhaustion.
At one point, a BLJ leader shouted, “I know it’s hot out here, but it was ten times hotter on the plantation!”
Then at 3:00 p.m., black protestors shifted their attention to the south side of the Capitol — when a contingent of Ku Klux
Klan representatives marched up under police protection. They were joined by anti-Klan demonstrators.
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For the next two hours, there were no formal speeches, just the Klan members, garbed in black shirts, parading the
battle flag in a cordoned off area of the Capitol steps.
The crowd continued to grow, as black demonstrators, youth wearing gang symbols and people carrying anti-racism signs
filled the area around the legislative office buildings at the Capitol complex. What appeared to be between 1,000 and 2,000 people
chanted, held signs and taunted each other:
At one point, a black youth “captured the flag” from a pro-KKK protestor:
At 5:00 p.m., Klan demonstrators left with a police escort made up of State Law Enforcement Division, State Department
of Public Safety Troopers, Columbia Police Department officers and other special agents. As a surveillance helicopter
circled overhead, the group returned to their cars in a public parking garage.
Bystanders reported an attack on a truck flying a confederate flag, at the corner of Gervais and Assembly streets. South Carolina Radio Network reporters saw the police respond and roads blocked off, but Police Chief William “Skip” Holbrook would not confirm the incident.
Holbrook did tell SCRN, as officers cleared the Capitol grounds, that state officials planned for this event for three weeks. “Sometimes it’s organized chaos, luckily, what’s most important is that we did not have any serious injuries.”
About devoting dozens of officers to the protection of the Klan, he added, “It’s what we have to do sometimes.”
Jeremy Urso contributed to the report.