South Carolina law enforcement officials learned three big lessons in July 2015 after fights broke out between rival racial groups at their State House rallies, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Monday.
The first is that you need an overwhelming numbers of officers, Lott said.
Second, you have to keep the groups separate.
And third, and just as important, is that you must continue to keep the groups separate even after the event is over and people are leaving the site, he said.
Lott, who was interviewed in the aftermath of the weekend violence in Charlottesville involving Klan and Nazi groups who faced off against counter protesters, said he did not want to criticize the Virginia police forces.
But, he said, “I just think they were surprised and overwhelmed by number of people that were there and the amount of violence.”
In July 2015, at the S.C. State House, fighting broke out between rival groups after state officials issued permits for both the Ku Klux Klan and the New Black Panthers Party to hold rallies back to back. Five people were arrested as violence erupted around the State House grounds and afterward, on Gervais and Main and Pendleton streets near the capitol.
“We learned a lot from that incident, and how the state wasn’t prepared to address it,” Lott said of South Carolina law enforcement agencies.
South Carolina’s rallies were held a week after the Confederate flag came down for the last time from the State House grounds. The Legislature ordered the flag removed after white nationalist Dylann Roof killed nine African-Americans during a Bible study meeting at a historic downtown Charleston church.
Roof had posted multiple images of himeself online, posing with the Confederate flag. He was convicted last winter of the killings and sentenced to death by a federal jury.
In Virginia, white nationalist and Nazi-inspired groups marched in downtown Charlottesville Saturday, clashing with counter protesters who were arguing against violence and the marchers’ message. Television stations’ and bystander videos showed people pushing and beating one another. Faces were bloodied, and people fell to the ground.
Local and Virgina state police did not keep the two sides separate.
Afterward, as people dispersed, a speeding car plowed into a crowd, killing one counter protester and injuring 19 others.
The driver, James Fields, 20, has been identified as a person who espoused Nazi beliefs. He was charged with second-degree murder.
Sunday, the organizer of the march called a press conference. He was harassed by counter protesters who then chased him through flower beds. He ran about a half-block before police moved in and put him into a police van, the video clips showed.
This story will be updated.