Protesters affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement briefly blocked an interstate leading into downtown Columbia on Sunday as part of a three-hour march across the city.
The roughly 800 protesters called for an end to police brutality during the two-hour march that began and ended at the South Carolina Capitol. The event was peaceful and watched closely by more than 100 Columbia Police and state law enforcement agents.
“Really it’s focused on the black lives that have been taken by police,” one organizer Lamar Kelly said. “It’s about us. It’s black-on-black brutality. It’s about ignorance in the community within ourselves and the police department. You should never have to be afraid to walk out of your house.”
Columbia Police said they did not make any arrests during the protest, although they did block off Interstate 126 heading both directions after the protesters walked into the eastbound lanes shortly after 9 p.m. Kelly said police had told them to end the march around that time.
“We had other destinations, but… they gave us a curfew. They said ‘you guys are done at nine’ and we told them we weren’t going to stop at nine,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “You guys don’t stop killing innocent people at nine… so you’re not going to tell us 9:00.”
The protesters ended up returning to the Statehouse shortly before 10 p.m, briefly blocking the intersection of Main Street and Gervais Street in front of the Confederate Soldier’s Monument. The rally then slowly wound down after that, gradually shrinking as participants went home for the night. A small group remained on the Statehouse steps after midnight, as Department of Public Safety and Highway Patrol troopers lined the top of the steps.
Sunday night’s march ended much differently than a smaller Black Lives Matter protest in Greenville just one night earlier, when about 150 people tried to breach a police barricade in an unsuccessful attempt to block Interstate 385. Five people were arrested in that incident, including one accused of choking an officer during a scuffle. The rest were charged with not obeying commands to stay out of the roadway itself.
Gov. Nikki Haley said she appreciated the peaceful nature of the protests, but criticized blocking I-126, which she argued “put our fellow citizens or law enforcement at risk.”
“Instead, let us remember the feelings of respect, cooperation, and brotherhood that brought our state through the last year, and made South Carolina an example, for all the world, of how to move forward in the wake of tragedy,” Haley said in a statement released by her office as most of the protesters began to head home.
The march began just hours after the SC Secessionist Party wrapped up its own rally in support of the Confederate flag. The group had raised a temporary banner and pole to criticize the first anniversary of the original flag’s removal from the grounds. Kelly said the two rallies were coincidental and his own group was part of a national movement to protest a string of recent high-profile police shootings of black men.