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SC activists block downtown Columbia street to protest injustice, quickly arrested

Activists arrested during protest against poverty

The Columbia Police Department arrested several protestors outside of the S.C. State House after the protestors blocked a portion of Sumter Street despite warnings to move.
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The Columbia Police Department arrested several protestors outside of the S.C. State House after the protestors blocked a portion of Sumter Street despite warnings to move.

Sixteen men and women — including a pastor — were arrested by Columbia police Monday after demanding higher wages and urging South Carolinians to vote for legislators who will represent average citizens, not corporate giants.

The activists gathered at the State House on Monday as part of a nationwide revival of the Poor People's Campaign, an effort launched 50 years ago by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others to address racial injustice, poverty and war.

The Columbia Police Department charged the 16 protestors with unlawfully blocking a portion of Sumter Street.

On Twitter, police said Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook and his command staff met with protest organizers last week to discuss their plans to be arrested. "Today, organizers thanked police for being professional and 'not being the enemy,' " the Police Department tweeted afterward.

In front of some State House staff Monday, protestors called for higher wages and an end to childhood poverty, urging South Carolinians to vote in the June 12 primaries and in the November general election.

The protestors included 30-year-old LaQuana Hunter — a fast-food worker and a single mother of three, who traveled from Charleston to be arrested.

"Even with the two jobs, I'm still making minimum wage, and it's ... not enough," Hunter said. "I love working with customers and making them happy. But behind closed doors, most have no idea what the checks look like. It's a sad story sometimes."

Longtime educator Bernadette Hampton said South Carolina must address the poor quality of education in some areas of the state, particularly the most rural school districts.

"So many of our rural districts have students that are on free or reduced school lunch," said Hampton, head of the S.C. Education Association. "Poverty is perpetuated based on a lack of access to education, a lack of access to health care and a lack of access or means to earn a living wage in order to provide for families and children."

Separately, Hampton and the S.C. State Employees Association are calling for public school teachers and state workers to rally at the State House at 9 a.m. Saturday to push legislators to spend more on education and pay state workers higher wages.

Monday's protest was just the tip of a national movement that — after 40 days of nonviolent protests and voter drives — is expected to draw thousands to Washington, D.C., next month.

Until then, S.C. activist Hunter said she will keep fighting for her children and future generations.

"I have to fight for them," she said. "I'm going to continue to fight until they get what they need."

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter
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