Militant Journalism

Columbia, SC protesters resilient in the face of police repression

Protesters, activists and community members in Columbia, South Carolina are facing severe repression following protests against racism and police terror at the end of May.

So far, more than 80 people have been arrested, protesters and bystanders alike. That number continues to grow as the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia Police Department seek to “make an example” out of protesters arrested on false and trumped-up charges, setting bail as high as $200,000, and publishing “wanted” lists to stir up fear in the community. In spite of this, organizers have come together to set up a bail fund to help free their fellow community members and to continue the fightback in the streets in ongoing protests. 

On May 30, thousands of people took to the streets of South Carolina’s capitol city in a mass demonstration to express outrage over the brutal police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims of racist police terror. Protesters marched to the state capital building, chanting “Black Lives Matter!” and “No Justice, No Peace!” Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation amplified these chants, and carried the red, black, and green banner of Black Liberation, along with picket signs with the peoples’ demand to arrest and prosecute killer cops.

Protesters of all backgrounds then marched on the Police Headquarters  under the youthful leadership of a new generation of Black organizers and activists.  At the police headquarters, protesters formed networks to relay water, food, and first aid supplies to each other to remain strong despite the intense heat.

Within hours, however, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin (D) would unleash the full force of state repression on the protesters. The police escalated the situation by erecting barricades and repeatedly taunting the protesters. Cops in full riot gear were deployed, equipped with shields, batons and rifles.

Following the leadership of Black activists, non-Black protesters linked arms and formed a protective first line of defense. After several hours, the police began to use tactics to wrangle and disperse the crowd, taking advantage of the actions of a white-supremacist provocateur to divide and surround protesters, before pushing the people and moving the barricades in the midst of the confusion.

As the people began to reposition and reorient themselves, a column of heavily armed police forces marched past the barricades and into the streets. The cops fired tear gas on protesters, and began arresting people without warning. For many, it was only after their hands had been zip tied behind their back and they were in a prison transport van that they were told that they had been arrested for “violating curfew” – a curfew called by Benjamin at 6:00 pm,  which most were completely unaware of.

Liberation News spoke with one protester, Fez Jacobs, who was arrested while standing arm-in-arm with others in the street across from the police station.

“After the police retroactively instituted their curfew all of us just got grabbed. The police took it upon themselves to start locking up any Black person in that general area; these were people who were just witnessing the events or going back and forth from work… When we arrived at the jail, the police were bickering amongst themselves trying to figure out which force arrested us and what our charges were. This was no assault on ‘crime’ but a concerted effort to subdue any resistance to the current regime.”

Jacobs also spoke about the conditions of the jail that the protesters were held in, the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. People were thrown into cramped holding cells, some for over 24 hours, as they awaited their bond hearings.

“While inside, we dealt with guards who laughed at and taunted us with quips like ‘look at our political prisoners.’ There were also guards who tried to play nice and soften us towards the system we were locked up for fighting against.”

Some organizers remained on the frontlines delivering supplies and first aid in the curfew zone, while others immediately leaped into action and began to assemble a bail fund for those arrested during the protests. Overnight, a coalition of organizations established the Soda City Bail Fund. By the next morning, thousands of dollars were raised to help free the members of the community who were arrested, and allies joined the Party for Socialism and Liberation – Columbia for a protest outside of Alvin S. Glenn. Signs read “Free Them All!” as a delegation was allowed entry into the jail to pay bail and help orchestrate the release of the political prisoners. Organizers offered water, food, transportation, and contact with legal aid to people as they were released.

Now, more than five weeks after the initial protests, the police state is coming down harder than ever on protesters. Jacobs commented on the increasing intensity of police repression: “Columbia Police had more up their sleeves when they figured out that the community had come together through the Soda City Bail Fund to pay the ransoms for protesters and people who were picked up at random. They started hiking up the degree of charges being filed. That, along with the substantially higher bails associated with them, were meant to make an example out of people.”

You can donate to the Soda City Bail Fund here.

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