S.C. Governor Henry McMaster told citizens Sunday afternoon that there was no excuse for the violence erupting across the state.
“As a result of tragic crime in Minnesota, we are experiencing bad behavior and some rioting and protests, but also we’re experiencing heartfelt conversations we should be having,” McMaster said. “We welcome conversation. We welcome protest. We welcome people speaking their mind, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and to peaceably assemble and express their concern. We’re better because of it. We do not tolerate lawlessness and violence, destruction of property and harm to our people.”
Some peaceful protests held Saturday in Columbia, Charleston and other cities across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd in Minnesota turned violent when some protestors began damaging property, setting fires to cars and businesses, and looting.
McMaster confirmed that Saturday at 5 p.m. he put the S.C. National Guard on alert.
“I hope we don’t have to use any of it. Violence and destruction will not be tolerated,” the Governor said.
He said that the state is prepared to do what is needed to prevent further violence.
“Anyone who would do damage to our people, hurt their cause, destroy property, and incite fear and violence, the law enforcement of South Carolina will deal with you very quickly and very sternly,” McMaster said.
Senator Tim Scott joined the conversation, saying he was heartbroken, angry, and scared after hearing about Floyd's death.
“Let us not allow that [tragedy] to metastasize into tragedies throughout the nation, or here at home,” Scott said.
He said he was confident that the law enforcement leaders and communities of color in the state had listened to teach other, but to make further progress, both sides needed to continue to listen.
“First, if you are a protestor, a non-violent protestor, selflessly saying ‘Enough is enough and we want our voices to be heard,' we admire and respect your vigilance. It’s what we need,” Scott said. “For those who are agitators, who believe violence is a way to take advantage of this, that is selfishness. We as a state cannot tolerate that. We as a people cannot tolerate that.”
Senator Scott said he hoped that reaching young people regarding the correct way to protest and have their voices heard can start with having positive role models at school, and having conversations with parents and community leaders.
“Protest. Be heard. Be seen. But be orderly,” Scott said. “How we conduct ourselves creates a pattern and a path to the future … we are South Carolina strong.”
J.T. McLawhorn of the Columbia Urban League spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s step-by-step process in dealing with injustice, beginning with researching the problem, then going and having a conversation with authorities, then moving to protest.
“We need to take a step back … what we have to do is open up some channels to these voices in our community. We cannot tolerate this type of rioting,” McLawhorn said. “I commend the peaceful protestors. Protesting is a foundation of our democracy.”
Brenda Murphy with the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP said that leaders need to engage young people.
“Young people, use your voice. It’s okay. Make sure you do it the right way. State what your challenges are, but to be destructive and destroy property and riot is not the right way. We need to use that energy in such a manner that we can create change," Murphy said.
Bishop Samuel Green of the 7th District AME Church said that as a father of three sons, he “sleeps on the edge of fear of getting that phone call that something has happened to one of my sons because they are young, black, and gifted.”
He referenced how South Carolinians responded to the death of Walter Scott and the nine lives taken at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston five years ago.
“The response of the families shocked the nation,” Bishop Green said. “They represented what I believe the true fabric of South Carolina is about. They responded in love. In forgiveness.”
He said that this was a critical hour for the country and for the church.
“You can’t claim to love Jesus and not pursue justice,” he said. “We don’t loot, we lobby our legislators. We don’t break glass, we break records and strongholds by going to the ballot box. Instead of violence, we vote. We can be radical and responsible at the same time.”
McMaster was asked about his tweet regarding the mention of “outside agitators” involved in the violence in Columbia and Charleston, and if “outsiders” may have been involved.
“There’s no 'may' about it,” McMaster said. “We know from law enforcement authorities around the state that there were people who were not from those cities, maybe even from other states. If we have people coming from other states to South Carolina intent on doing harm to people or property, there are law books full of statues that address those things, and we will certainly use those as necessary.”
He said that the government of South Carolina is ready to listen and “communicate, collaborate, and cooperate”.
“We want to hear those protests and points of view. It’s a formula for success and progress. Don’t get violent. You must draw the line, when you begin getting violent nobody listens anymore,” McMaster said.