A Black Lives Matter protest at the South Carolina State House caused a number of roads to be obstructed and closed on Sunday.
The Columbia Police Department has been working with the group of about 800 protestors, and said that no arrests had been made and there were no reports of criminal activity.
The protest began between 7 and 8 p.m., after the South Carolina Secessionist Party marked the one-year anniversary of the Confederate flag coming down from the South Carolina State House by raising the banner again on a temporary pole earlier in the day.
“We’ve had open lines of communication to try and facilitate their movements as they move through the city,” Columbia Chief of Police Skip Holbrook said of the protestors, adding his department has been aided by Bureau of Protective Services, S.C. Highway Patrol, SLED and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. “Our goal is to protect people and protect property and our (officers) have showed excellent restraint, a lot of common sense and exercised good judgment.
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“Nobody has gotten hurt and there’s been no property damage.”
The protestors movement did cause roads to be blocked.
Interstate 126 was closed on the stretch between the Greystone Boulevard and Huger and Elmwood street exits.
Chief Holbrook confirmed the group traveled down Elmwood Street and onto I-126, in both the inbound and outbound lanes, and the South Carolina Department of Transportation posted online that it temporarily closed the interstate. Traffic was diverted at the Greystone Boulevard exit before I-126 reportedly reopened.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said he was driving when he saw I-126 was shut down at the Huger and Elmwood split. He said the roads appeared to be shut down by the police to make sure no one got hurt. Rutherford then parked and joined the protest.
“I’ve been involved in police shootings for years,” Rutherford said, adding he has seen the injustice. “To have a chance to voice my opposition to the way things go, I could not miss it.”
Rutherford noted the heavy police presence at the protest. “No one here wants any violence toward the police, we simply want the violence toward African Americans to stop.”
At least 40 police officers lined the top of the State House steps at 11 p.m.
The protest also caused several roads around the State House to be closed, including stretches of Taylor and Gervais streets. Among the intersections closed were the meetings of Gervais and Assembly, Assembly and College, College and Sumter in addition to Sumter and Gervais. Gervais Street was the last to reopen, after 1 a.m.
Governor Nikki Haley released a statement regarding the protest and the road closures.
“While I appreciate the peaceful intent of this weekend’s rallies, I’d ask that we not put our fellow citizens or law enforcement at risk – which is exactly what attempting to block highways does,” Haley said in the statement. “Instead, let us remember the feelings of respect, cooperation, and brotherhood that brought our state through the last year, and made South Carolina an example, for all the world, of how to move forward in the wake of tragedy.”
Several of the protestors shared their thoughts on the recent police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, and the presence of the Confederate flag at the State House on Sunday.
Zariyah Williams, 18, joined hundreds of protesters, saying “I just came to support. I’m tired of what’s going on.”
Shakeia Stackhouse, 19, wore a shirt listing names of African Americans who had been killed by police. She said she protested Sunday to bring awareness of police killing African American men and to support the rally.
Jalaludin Abdul-Hamid, 36, of Columbia, said he was frustrated that a year after the Confederate flag was lowered, the Secessionist Party returned to fly it again in a Sunday afternoon ceremony, with the flag being taken down at 5 p.m.
“Why not celebrate unity,” Abdul-Hamid said. “Today should’ve been for all us. For unity. We should be moving forward.”
Staff writers Cassie Cope, Noah Feit, Glen Luke Flanagan and Cynthia Roldán contributed to this report.
Statement From Gov. Nikki Haley
“Last year South Carolina showed the power of listening, respect and kindness. Whether passing the nation’s first body camera law, removing a divisive symbol of the past from the Statehouse, or helping neighbors through the floods, our people rose to the occasion. While I appreciate the peaceful intent of this weekend’s rallies, I’d ask that we not put our fellow citizens or law enforcement at risk – which is exactly what attempting to block highways does. Instead, let us remember the feelings of respect, cooperation, and brotherhood that brought our state through the last year, and made South Carolina an example, for all the world, of how to move forward in the wake of tragedy.”