Red Bank, SC (Paul Kirby) – A very small group of “I Can’t Breathe” protester gathered near South Lake Drive and Two Notch Road Monday afternoon but quickly dispersed. They were using the concrete street island between First Community and CVS to keep safe near the dangerous intersection. This group had signs and approached several vehicles but did not appear to cause any real disruption. They were gone after a very short time.
The first reports of this came in from a senior supervisor with the Lexington County Fire Service. He simply reported that while working in that area, he witnessed a protester approaching vehicles that were stopping for the traffic signal. Others said the protester that went into the road did impede traffic somewhat as he moved from the road to the safety of the concrete divider when the lights changed. The fire service employee requested a deputy from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department respond.
One Lexington Ledger follower who took the attached photo said, “When traffic was at a standstill, one of the protesters would walk up to some vehicles and hold his sign at their car windows.” Within a short time, this stopped, and the protesters left with no reports of violence during the incident.
Closer to the Congaree River, law enforcement agencies heightened their level of readiness as they received reports that protesters had begun gathering at the SC State House. Everyone was apprehensive due to the events of last weekend when peaceful protesters lost control and things evolved into destructive and illegal behavior.
The “I Can’t Breathe” movement organized protest nationwide last weekend against the treatment of minorities by law enforcement. Monday’s group assembled around 2:30 p.m. in Columbia and was smaller than the hordes of protesters at the state house last weekend. During Saturday and Sunday’s events, many of the protesters seemed to desire a peaceful protest as is their right. According to law enforcement officials in Richland County, agitators from out of town began working on the emotions of the group, eventually inciting some to violence. That more violent group eventually marched down Main Street and burned some CPD patrol cars, injured people, and vandalized City of Columbia property.
When people began to gather Monday, Lexington County based law enforcement agencies began communicating with City of Columbia officials to keep close track of the mood of that protest. Some were prepared to close bridges leading into Lexington County if necessary as they had over the weekend. One agency was also receiving reports from an officer stationed in Columbia who was keeping a close watch of people gathered at the capitol. Although that officer reported some protesters were making threats of violence, the core group who believed in the cause was never drawn into that. No violence ever started,and for the most part the message was delivered in a clear and peaceful manner.
Around 7:00 p.m., word was passed to law enforcement officers on the west side of the Congaree that the mayor and city council of Columbia were quickly taking steps to modify their existing curfew. They planned to modify the curfew’s start time and have that ready before 8:00 p.m. Other municipal officials considered this step, but intelligence reports from the capitol reported the crowd was calm and no violence was occurring. It was never necessary anywhere else.
Columbia did modify its curfew Monday evening. They had the one in place that began at 11:00 p.m. At the appointed time Monday, they announced the curfew was modified for downtown, the Vista and Five Points. The modification changed its start time to 7:45 p.m. for those specific areas. Some law enforcement leaders on the Lexington side of the river received word that CPD officers were prepared to place violators under arrest if they refused to disperse after that time.
The Monday protesters seemed much more intent on delivering the message of their cause without breaking the law or inciting violence. As with all Americans, everyone has the right to peacefully assemble to make their voices heard. The violence that occurred across the nation last weekend only distracted from the protesters’ point that reforms are necessary in our criminal justice systems. The small peaceful group that gathered Monday in Columbia seemed to deliver their message without the noise of violence that agitators had incited Friday and Saturday. That unrest stole the spotlight from the true protesters with a clear message.
Even though Monday’s group was small, both in Red Bank and Columbia, their message was much clearer when it was delivered peacefully.