CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Leaders of area civil rights groups and Charleston city and county officials are stressing the importance of remaining peaceful as two high-profile trials begin in the Lowcountry.
Jury selection in the state trial for Michael Slager, a former North Charleston officer accused in the shooting death of motorist Walter Scott, started Monday morning at the Charleston County courthouse. The federal trial of Dylann Roof, accused in the shooting deaths of nine parishioners of Mother Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015, begins next Monday.
Monday, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, leaders of the National Action Network, NAACP, Charleston Police and area chaplains gathered at Marion Square.
The leaders want to send a message to outside groups who may think of traveling to the Holy City.
"We don't want outsiders coming into our city to speak for the people of the City of Charleston," said Elder James Johnson, with NAN. "We can speak for ourselves."
Officials with the city and local groups are on the lookout for potentially violent groups. Johnson said there was talk on social media of the KKK and New Black Panthers coming to the area during the trials.
"We want to send a strong message to those groups that they aren't welcome here," Johnson said. "We can handle our own city. We don't want our city burning."
"It's truly an opportunity for our city to continue, not start, but continue its role to show the world a community that's united, and the belief that love conquers hate," said Mayor Tecklenburg.
The mayor said the city opened their municipal Emergency Operations Center with prayer Monday.
Leaders talked about the response the city had last year when the Walter Scott and Mother Emanuel shootings happened.
While groups did gather at North Charleston city hall and at Marion Square in downtown Charleston, they were peaceful protests that didn't escalate to violence.
"[We have to believe] in our justice system that it can work, a belief in our community that we will come together and stay together," Tecklenburg said.
"We must operate a safe city," Johnson said. "We don't want anyone to get killed or hurt in this process."
NAN released a statement Monday that reads in part:
"At a time when hate is so prevalent in our country and racial lines are being divided, it is a privilege to stand and be a voice, and representative along with our colleagues, to say this this is our city, our home, we built it. We will not allow any group to come here and tell us how to run it, or come and destroy what the people of South Carolina built."
During jury selection Monday for Michael Slager's trial, two men gathered outside of the County courthouse to solidarity to the family of Walter Scott. They could be seen standing peacefully, holding signs that read "Walter Scott R.I.P.".
Charleston police have set up a safety zone around the courthouses. Law enforcement will be present there over the next few weeks.
After the news conference, officers investigated reports of a suspicious package near a fountain at Marion Square. Officers appeared to find the owner of the bag shortly after and cleared the scene.