Members of Charleston City Council’s public safety committee got their first looks Thursday at a 64-page report analyzing the activity and response to protests downtown on May 30. The report includes the city police’s analysis of marches through downtown during the day, which preceded destructive gatherings later that night on King Street.
Crowds gathered initially on May 30 in Marion Square to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, marching down the peninsula to White Point Garden and back toward the park. Later that night, after much of the earlier gathering dispersed, destructive protests converged on King Street, leaving many storefronts shattered in the heart of the city’s tourist district. Police responded with tear gas and an expanded presence, but mainly contained the individuals.
In its executive summary, the After Action Review is described as helping to identify shortcomings and areas in which the police department can improve, advancing the department’s mission to protect the citizens of Charleston.
“It is important to acknowledge that the vast majority of protesters — there were approximately 2,000 present — remained peaceful and were legitimately exercising their First Amendment rights,” the review reads.
The full report includes a timeline of activities beginning as early as May 28, with intelligence sources monitoring the peninsula and plans for protests. The report is supplemented with maps and graphs showing the growth of crowds and the routes taken by protesters as they marched through downtown Charleston, as well as roads they blocked along the way.
An excerpt of the report was read at the meeting by attorney Heather Mulloy, with the full report sent to committee members for discussion.
“I was a part of the protest on the 30th, and to me, it was the right thing for people to do, to put into context why everyone was here, that Black lives do matter,” Councilmember Carol Jackson said. “We do have a kind of learning curve in our community that we have admitted to, and we are continuing to learn on those bases.”
Councilmembers Jason Sakran, Mike Seekings, Peter Shahid, Kevin Shealy and Keith Waring also attended the virtual meeting, along with Mayor John Tecklenburg and Police Chief Luther Reynolds. City legal and police department staff also took part.
Jackson mentioned the protests that sprung up across the peninsula created a learning environment for city leaders and law enforcement. “That is where we can really be positive,” she said.
Waring said an important step to take now must involve direct communication with those affected, to answer questions, but more so to get the perspective of the community as to how the city could have better handled the situation.
“A lot of people have, not questions, but ‘I think you could have done this; I think you could have done that,'” Waring said. “That would come from a layman’s standpoint, but if we get one good idea, one good, constructive idea, we are going to be better the next day moving forward.”
Jackson added if the city plans to discuss the events with those affected, it is equally vital to get the perspective of peaceful protesters who were arrested or otherwise disrupted by police over the course of the weekend.
“If we are going to be talking to people that experienced the May 30 violence and vandalism and all the scary things that happened on King Street, I think it would be wise of us to also talk to some of the people who were arrested on the 31st whose charges were dropped,” Jackson said. “I don’t think there’s a settled sense about how we got to that place.”
On May 31, follow-up protests downtown continued in Marion Square, where police presence was dramatically increased. As protesters remained assembled in the park ahead of the curfew, officers from various agencies launched gas and non-lethal rounds at the protesters. Eventually, dozens of participants were arrested and spent the night in county jail. Most charges have since been dropped.
In a June 2 letter to local law enforcement leaders, Frank Knaack, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, said police actions only heightened tensions during the Sunday gatherings.
“After demanding that all protestors disperse, the law enforcement officers then began moving toward the protestors, making arrests and firing projectiles at the protestors. During this time the protestors remained non-violent. This response by law enforcement marked a clear, dangerous, and counterproductive escalation,” Knaack wrote.