CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston’s mayor and police chief are defending the city’s response to Saturday night’s riots downtown as they urge people to clear the peninsula by 6 p.m.
Mayor John Tecklenburg held a news conference from Charleston City Hall Sunday afternoon.
Tecklenburg said that in the midst of a pandemic, a horrific murder "tore the scab off of a wound of racism" and has had an impact all over the country.
But he said the rioting in Charleston is ironic because the city has been struggling to get to a better place. He cited an city council apology for Charleston's role in slavery and a racial bias audit conducted last year for Charleston's police force.
"We're all angry about this horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but y'all last night was a sad night in the city of Charleston," Tecklenburg said.
He said they called for a curfew when the first pane of glass was broken.
"With the resources available to us and many bad actors on the scene, the situation clearly got out of control," he said.
He said there were no losses of life or serious injury to first responders or to civilians. Though there were a number of fire calls, he said there were no serious fires.
But he said the city will not allow looting and rampant violence to occur.
Tecklenburg was joined by Police Chief Luther Reynolds, who again called Floyd’s death while in police custody “deplorable.”
But of the rioting, he said it is “not the right way to hear the message when you come in here and want to wreak havoc and commit crimes in our city.”
“So, yesterday we had a peaceful protest,” Reynolds said. “And there’s people who’ve come here who are not a part of this city. Who mean harm to our city. So we went yesterday from having a peaceful protest with family members, children, different races different ethnic backgrounds, very diverse group of people who wanted to be heard, to a smaller subset of people who wanted to commit crimes.”
He said some of his officers logged 20 miles Saturday night as they tried to push back rioters and clear the city.
“I had officers who were hit by bottles and rocks and bricks,” Reynolds said. “And I can promise you we’ll have a different footprint tonight. We have gas. We have Grenadiers. We have a lot of sets of handcuffs we a lot of mobile field force teams. And if we have to. We’re going to take a little bit of a different approach tonight. And we’re going to be making arrests.”
But Reynolds fired back at criticism of his agency’s handling of the crowds.
“I will just tell you when you’re in a riot for 12 to 16 hours in that type of environment, you have to be strategic, you have to be smart, you have to be thoughtful,” he said.
But he also responded to questions about why police “didn’t just arrest them all.”
“It sounds easy, but it’s not,” he said. “Sometimes when you chase people down an alleyway instead of helping you’ve now created another problem. Now I have 10 or 20 officers that I have to rescue because... they’re not with our main group.”
Reynolds said he believes the rioters were counting on police to get separated.
“The people who were in our city last night, they’re not from this area,” he said. “They’re well trained, they’re well equipped, they had radios. Many had other technology to communicate with each other. And that’s exactly what they wanted us to do, because they wanted to create more carnage. They wanted people to be injured, and we did a good job with what we had.”
U.S. First District Congressman Joe Cunningham, who also attended Tecklenburg’s news conference, said he thinks there is one thing everyone can agree on about what happened in downtown Charleston: “Throughout our country is people were mad as hell. People were mad as hell about what’s going on and what’s been going on.”
“And the fact is, if you can watch on camera a young man saying that you can’t breathe while someone has their knee on his neck, and you don’t feel angry, you may not have a beating heart inside of you," Cunningham said.
He said he walked down King Street Sunday morning and helped in clean-up efforts.
“I talked to business owners who had their family working with them at their business,” he said. “I talked to folks who stood on King Street fighting off violent protesters, and it does a serious disservice to everything that is trying to be accomplished and trying to bridge that racial divide. When you shatter windows, when you light cars on fire, it’s not becoming of who we are as a country, and sure as hell isn’t becoming who we are as a community.”
Tecklenburg said a citywide curfew would take effect at 6 p.m. Sunday and run through 6 a.m. on Monday.
The city of North Charleston, the town of Summerville and Charleston County have since enacted a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew effective Sunday night.