This piece is the second part of coverage for Friday’s Black Lives Matter marches. Click here to read the first part.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department announced a formal partnership with Black Lives Matter South Carolina (BLMSC) ahead of the activist group’s Statehouse march Friday.
Wendell Harris, the youth services captain for the sheriff's department, made the announcement roughly half an hour before the march.
“You need a voice, you need a seat at the table. We can’t do that if you live in fear 'cause there’s things we have to change,” Harris said. “There’s things we all have to change.”
Harris said this partnership was a necessary part of moving forward.
“Change must come, but it comes together,” he said.
Harris also announced his position as sheriff Leon Lott’s executive liaison for community relations and said people could “call [him] right on the spot” if they encountered problems with Richland County law enforcement.
Afterward, the march proceeded peacefully from Memorial Park to the Statehouse. BLMSC founder Lawrence Nathaniel led chants of “test the bills,” a reference to Rep. Jim Clyburn’s speech earlier in the day, and “We will vote.”
The march was escorted by the Columbia Police Department, including Harris, for its duration.
Upon arriving at the Statehouse, the marchers were absorbed into a larger group headed by a community engagement group known as One Common Cause.
Jerome Bowers, the group’s leader, delivered a speech as the march approached the Statehouse, where a voter registration drive was occurring.
“I understand that they got a voter registration drive, and I understand they got a lot of other things going on, but at the end of the day, those votes mean nothing, those votes mean nothing if the people in position are going to ignore you,” Bowers said.
Bowers said his organization focused on self-reliance and community.
“After the polls close, after the election’s over with, when we go back to our poverty-affected areas … a lot of these people that be out here on the forefront, we don't see them,” Bowers said. “So our people are standing up for ourselves; we’re making our position known.”
After these initial remarks, Bowers was approached by Harris, who began a dialogue with him.
“I'm here because I care. That's why I didn't bring no mob squad with me, I don't have 55 guys dressed in uniform," Harris said. "I'm here because your concerns are very important, because your concerns are still mine.”
Finally, a press conference was held with Lott, Harris and BLMSC leaders Lawrence Nathaniel and Kayin Jones.
Nathaniel opened the conference by addressing concerns about the partnership between BLMSC and the sheriff’s department.
“One of the things that I do want you to know, is that we are here to stay, and that we are here to make a change, and the only way to do that is by communicating and having an open dialogue and making sure that we're at the table for you. That's why we're out here,” Nathaniel said.
Lott then took the podium to review the day’s events.
“We've talked about the peaceful protests today ... but beyond that we're sitting down and we're talking with each other about the rest of problems that we've got. We do have problems in law enforcement; we have problems in our community,” Lott said.
Lott welcomed criticism against law enforcement.
“Even those voices that are in opposition against us, we need to listen to them. That's how we can move forward, and we can make changes. So, today's a great example of what we can do when we work together,” Lott said.
BLMSC will be holding another march Saturday at 11 a.m. starting at Columbia City Hall.