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Police defend Charleston protest policies as activists claim preferential treatment

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 2:53 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2021 at 6:27 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - It has been nearly six weeks since Charleston City Council passed new regulations on protests and demonstrations in the city, but, even with the ordinance, some people have shared they believe not all demonstrations are treated equally.

Pastor Thomas Dixon—who is a community activist and who has witnessed various demonstrations recently—said he believes police have different standards, depending on who is protesting. Charleston Police Department officials said that is not true, and a lot boils down to communication with authorities.

According to Charleston Police, three people were arrested at a protest in July, after it was announced there would be no charges filed against the corrections officers involved in Jamal Sutherland’s death.

In a release, police said the organizer was charged with failure to obtain a permit and disorderly conduct. The other two were charged with 3rd degree assault and battery after authorities said they punched and spit on an officer.

A few days later, city council passed an ordinance, which requires a permit for any demonstration, assembly, picketing, or march with 25 or more people at a public place, unless it’s a response to breaking news.

At least two anti-mask protests have been held in the city since then. Dixon said the protests clearly violate the ordinance.

“[There was] nobody arrested and over 25 [people were there,]” he said. “[It was a] direct violation of the ordinance and nobody whatsoever was brought to task on that. We’ve consistently seen this separate but equal Jim Crow-like treatment from Charleston Police and the City of Charleston.”

There were no permits issued to either anti-mask protest, but police said there is a difference in these demonstrations and others.

According to Captain Jason Bruder with Charleston Police, the protest at the school board meeting and the protest at the Charleston City Council Meeting were made up of people waiting in line to speak at the meeting. Bruder said the demonstration outside of the council meeting was also considered a response to breaking news.

“Most of the people there had signed up,” he said. “I believe we had over 80 people who had signed up to speak at the public participation period. We in law enforcement try to be very careful before we just try and remove somebody that’s there for a passionate reason to remove their chance to be heard in front of their city council. That’s ultimately why they’re there in the first place because they don’t believe they’re being heard.”

Dixon said the anti-mask gatherings were clearly protests, with people holding signs and chanting. Bruder told us many decisions they make are because of a concern for public safety.

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