CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The chairman of Charleston County Council issued a curfew that takes effect at 11 p.m. Saturday night after hours of protests over the death of a man who died this week while in Minneapolis Police custody.
Charleston County Council Chair Elliott Summey released the following statement:
Charleston County joins the rest of the nation grieving over of the death of George Floyd. Our citizens have the right to be angry and the right to protest this unspeakable tragedy. Now is the time to join together and peacefully honor Mr. Floyd’s memory. Due to the property damage caused downtown, there will be a countywide curfew from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.
Shortly before midnight, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg released the following statement:
The murder of George Floyd has rightly caused outrage here and across the country. And while we as Charlestonians strongly support all of the good men and women who are peacefully and lawfully protesting that terrible crime, we cannot and will not condone acts of violence and vandalism in our city. Tonight, our police will work to contain the relatively small number of bad actors who are doing this damage. And tomorrow morning, Charlestonians of every race and station will come together to reject all forms of violence and injustice, and to affirm once again that ours is a city united in peace.
At a Saturday evening news conference, Tecklenburg said he spoke with leaders of North Charleston and Mount Pleasant and called for a countywide curfew after a rally in downtown Charleston eventually escalated to criminal activity that included vandalism and violence.
Tecklenburg said the curfew is only expected to be in effect for Saturday into Sunday, but said they would re-evaluate whether a curfew would be necessary for Sunday as well.
“We think that will keep everyone safe,” Tecklenburg said of the curfew. “We’ve got to do this peacefully. We’ve got to do this within the confines of law and order. We certainly advocate and and are aligned with those who seek justice over this murder that occurred want that expression to occur, but it’s got to be done.”
He said Charleston city leaders consulted with leaders of Mount Pleasant and North Charleston and all agreed to seek the curfew from the county after hours of protests that began with a rally at Marion Square and escalated to a temporary shutdown of traffic in I-26 and both sides of the Ravenel Bridge and damage to property downtown.
The majority of protesters were peaceful throughout the day. But Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said at Saturday night’s news conference that there were people committing crimes as they were speaking.
“We had a statue that was spray painted today. We’ve had some other things that were spray painted. We’ve had some broken windows. We’ve had people throwing rocks at the police and citizens, all crimes,” Reynolds said. “All things that I can tell you 99% of the people that were in the protest today would not accept that are not a part of that there’s a small group that is left that are trying to do harm to our city.”
Reynolds said he did not know whether the people committing the crimes were from the Charleston area.
“They don’t have any interest in having a peaceful protest,” he said. “They’re not interested in a message. They want to create anarchy and they want to create problems.”
Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis confirmed his agency was sending officers to downtown Charleston.
“We are sending units immediately to assist our neighboring agency during this crisis,” Lewis said. “I have deployed several deputy sheriffs to respond to Charleston to assist in keeping the peace.”
Police said earlier two men wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats were assaulted.
Estimates put the number of people who have participated in the event potentially into the thousands.
The event began at 2 p.m. at Marion Square where a rally had been scheduled to protest the death of George Floyd, the Minnesota man killed on Monday while being restrained by police.
Shortly before 2:30 p.m., protesters began marching down King Street. About 15 minutes later, they turned and walked back along King Street toward Marion Square.
They also marched past Mother Emanual AME Church, the site of a fatal shooting in which a white man gunned down nine of the church’s parishioners in June 2015. Protesters left flowers and a sign that read, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
But a group of protesters then began marching toward I-26 where they blocked traffic on the on-ramp toward the bridge itself. Eventually, both the on and off-ramps were blocked.
For a short time, a line of police blocked them from going further toward the bridge, but around 6:45 p.m., that line of police appeared to move to the side to allow the protesters to continue marching.
Protesters chanted “No silence” and “Black Lives Matter” and held signs, some of which read, “I can’t breathe,” the words Floyd was heard repeating in video widely circulated Monday.
There was a strong police presence watching the scene. At one point, there were tense moments when a line of police officers stood face to face with marchers. After several minutes, police moved to the side to allow the march to continue.
Earlier during the march, someone appeared to jump onto a car and try to throw something, but others immediately yelled at him to get down. There has been a resounding theme from everyone at the rally that they want this to stay peaceful.
Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds commented on Floyd’s death.
“There needs to be justice, just like when anyone commits a crime," Reynolds said. "I’m appalled by it, I’m angry about it.”
Floyd, who was black, died Monday after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck and kept it there for more than eight minutes.
The incident touched off days of violent protests in Minneapolis and protests in other American cities.
In Columbia, protesters held a rally Saturday at noon that began at the South Carolina State House and continued in a march to the Columbia Police station. Columbia Police officers were waiting for the protesters outside the police station in riot gear.
Minnesota authorities arrested Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd, on Friday after three days of protests which escalated in violence. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is acknowledging the “abject failure” of the response to this week’s violent protests. He says the state will take over the response.