The National Action Network (NAN) and Black Lives Matter South Carolina (BLMSC) led a series of marches and protests Friday against the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Based out of Memorial Park, the protests began around 9:30 a.m. with a march on Senator Lindsey Graham’s Columbia offices.
Tiffany James, president of the NAN’s Columbia chapter, said the march’s purpose was to demand Graham support both the George Floyd Police Accountability Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act in Senate.
En route to Graham’s offices, the protesters were led in a variety of cheers by Erica Cokley, a self-described “boots on the ground mama” and community activist from Charleston.
“South Carolina is the first in everything you need to be last in and last in everything you need to be first in. So we need to start working on a whole lot of things right now,” Cokley said.
Upon arriving, the march was met by roughly a dozen counter-protestors from the faith-based coalition We the People holding American flags, as well as those depicting Donald Trump as a Rambo-esque figure.
We the People, led by conservative activist Erik Corcoran, has protested against BLM before in Charleston, according to president of legal advocacy group Stand as One Justin Hunt. Specifically, said Hunt, We the People protested the removal of Confederate monuments on the grounds of defending history.
The run-in with We the People was personal for Hunt.
"They were protesting against us in Charleston against the Confederate monuments. And what happened is we began to drown them out," Hunt said. "So they stopped coming out. So with that being said, to see them today kind of had me a little emotional."
Hunt also said that defending Graham’s offices does not align with We the People's goals.
“I was assuming that he was talking about the monuments. I was assuming he'd be talking about the battlefields," Hunt said. "A senator building is not history, so now he's contradicted himself into a purpose which means he was just defending the Confederate history."
Despite tensions at the protest, NAN volunteers formed a barrier in front of the counter-protestors, and the march returned to Memorial Park without violence.
Following the march, a series of speakers including Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and the family of Walter Scott, who was killed in North Charleston by police five years ago, gave speeches in Memorial Park on a variety of topics.
Scott’s brother, Anthony, gave a speech about the persistence of racism in the United States.
“Every day, every 24 hours that we're in this skin, we face some type of racism action against us. Every 24 hours. So, you multiply that by the years, and by the hours. Oh, my God. Unspeakable,” Anthony Scott said.
Scott also spoke out against those who prioritize the economy over social justice issues.
“The economy means nothing to us if we can’t live,” Scott said. “We can’t leave something to our families and our children, because we're dead. We're no longer here. It doesn't mean anything to us. So the economy, we need that to stay up. Yes, we do. But we need to stay alive more than, more than anything else.”
Clyburn recounted the story of his first nights in jail as a student activist marching against newly established breach of peace laws, a form of public disturbance law.
“I decided that day that I’m gonna go and help them organize, but I’m not going to jail today,” Clyburn said.
However, when told to turn around by police, Clyburn said the group he was leading refused.
“Needless to say, two hours later, I’m in jail,” Clyburn said.
Clyburn’s advice to student activists followed a similar spirit.
“I say to students . . . [the late Rep.] John Lewis would say it all the time: If you see something, say something,” Clyburn said. “My dad used to tell me all the time, ‘Silence gives consent.’ So we saw wrong and we did something about it.”
This coverage is of the first of Friday's two marches.