Activist arrested after march: ‘We’re not going to beg for our rights anymore’

VIDEO: Activists arrested days after vigil, march in downtown Charleston

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Lowcountry activist who was arrested along with a second man over a weekend vigil and march in downtown Charleston vowed to continue fighting to protect First Amendment rights.

Justin Hunt, 31, and David Austin Bennett, 28, are charged with disorderly conduct and violation of a permit, according to jail records.

Hunt initially sent a statement that Pastor Thomas Dixon read aloud, explaining that lawyers for Hunt and Bennett advised them not to appear at the news conference which was held outside the Al Cannon Detention Center.

But after several people spoke about the arrests, Hunt arrived to speak in person with reporters.

Hunt offered sharp words for the city of Charleston and the Charleston Police Department, which he accused of traumatizing him in the manner in which he was arrested.

“I want to make it public that the city of Charleston Police Department did traumatize me as a black leader, they traumatized this Black community,” he said. “And we will be facing civil lawsuits against the city of Charleston and we will be pressing our rights.”

He also vowed that he will continue to request permits for peaceful protests.

“And damn it, if I ever - when I submit for a permit, I want it passed because I’m going to do it the right way, according to the legal way.”

He said he will hold the city accountable just as he said they tried to hold him accountable.

“You’re going to give us our legal rights,” he said. “We’re not going to beg for it anymore.”

Justin Brian Hunt and David Austin Bennett
Justin Brian Hunt and David Austin Bennett (Source: Al Cannon Detention Center)

Charleston Police released a statement Wednesday afternoon in connection with the arrests.

“Last night, two individuals were arrested and charged for failing to obtain a permit and disorderly conduct for their leading of a large group Sunday evening,” the statement read in part. “These men, who are very familiar with the permitting process, intentionally chose to gather a large protest group without requesting a permit and without stating their plan, per city requirements. They also attempted to disrupt traffic and, despite being told where they could safely protest, took this group of approximately 115 people onto a roadway, forcing the closure of King and Society Streets and creating a standoff with police.”

“While we are going to great lengths to support the rights of peaceful protests to be heard, we will continue charging persons who deliberately disobey the law and create unsafe conditions for residents, businesses, protesters and public safety officials,” Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said. “We care deeply about the Constitution and will continue being responsive to and supportive of those people who obey the law and adhere to the processes in place.”

Reynold said he shares in the demand for justice on so many levels and is glad to see people speaking out about “the many injustices we see all around us.”

Hunt is a member of Stand as One SC, an advocacy group that describes themselves on Facebook as “a group of community leaders and activists dedicated to activism for equal rights of all individuals as well as expanding community outreach and growth.”

Stand as One organizers, including Hunt, held a conference Tuesday where they condemned Charleston Police’s actions during Sunday’s vigil and demonstration in response to two national police shootings.

At Tuesday’s conference Hunt said communication with law enforcement kept changing leading up to the demonstration, and people were blocked from marching on King Street.

Charleston police said no permits were issued for the protest, but they were partnering with citizens and community leaders to keep the community safe.

Hunt had his bail set at $385.75 and jail records show he has since bonded out as of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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