By Sheryl Estrada
A rally for racial equality organized by the Black Educators for Justice, based in Jacksonville, Fla., was scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. on the north side of the Statehouse, where the Confederate flag was removed. The North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan protest of the flag’s removal wasscheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. on the south side of the statehouse grounds. Yet, the two groups eventually clashed.
During the rallies, a KKK member present surprisingly asked the Director of South Carolina’s Department of Public Safety Leroy Smith, a Black man, to help two other members at the rally suffering from heat-related illnesses.
Rob Godfrey, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s deputy chief of staff, snapped a photo of Smith helping the white man wearing a National Socialist Movement T-shirt. Godfrey sent a tweet including the photo with the message:
“Not an uncommon example of humanity in SC: Leroy Smith helps white supremacist to shelter & water as heat bears down.”
The photo went viral on social media.
not an uncommon example of humanity in SC: Leroy Smith helps white supremacist to shelter & water as heat bears down. pic.twitter.com/GoF23r3mRe
Rob Godfrey (@RobGodfrey) July 18, 2015
“I have been somewhat surprised by how this photo has taken off and gone viral around the world,” Smith said in a statement. He also said it’s the duty of law enforcement officers help others regardless of their race:
Our men and women in uniform are on the front lines every day helping people regardless of the person’s skin color, nationality or beliefs. As law enforcement officers, service is at the heart of what we do. I believe this photo captures who we are in South Carolina and represents what law enforcement is all about. I am proud to serve this great State, and I hope this photo will be a catalyst for people to work to overcome some of the hatred and violence we have seen in our country in recent weeks.
Smith began his positionof Director of Public Safety in November 2011. He came to South Carolina with more than 20 years of experience with the Florida Highway Patrol, serving as Chief of Investigations. Smithalso was head of the emergency management division throughout eight hurricanes in Florida, and at the helm of the Highway Patrols’ office of Homeland Security division.
The “hatred and violence” Smith may be referring to is the murderof nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. by Dylann Roof on June 17.
In June, when photos surfaced of Roof using the Confederate flag to perpetuate his ideology of hate, there was a public outcry for it to be removed from South Carolina’s capitol grounds. It was ceremoniously removed on July 10, following Gov. Nikki Haley signing a billinto law, July 9.
Approximately 2,000 people in total attended the events on Saturday and five were arrested, according to S.C. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli. There were some fights that broke out between KKK members and counter-protestors, and at least two assaults reported.
There is plenty of vile footageof KKK members, about 50 in attendance, who claim the flag does not represent hate, using inflammatory language toward Blacks present. Plastic bottles were being thrown at the white supremacists by crowds watching the protests, whojeered and booedthem. After about an hour, law enforcement officers escorted the group out.
On Sunday, a prayer vigilagainst racism took place on the Statehouse grounds. It was attended by hundreds of members of churches in the Columbia area and elsewhere.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) counted 784 active hate groups in the U.S. in 2014. The SPLC Hate Map lists 19 hate groups in South Carolina. California has the highest number in the country with 57.
According to its website, “All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.”