Sunday, 31 May 2020. Downtown Columbia, South Carolina State House – George Floyd/BLM Protest
I want to be really clear about what I witnessed yesterday. Everything was peaceful on the SC State grounds and during the march to the Columbia Police Department. Soon after arriving, agitators came out and started throwing water bottles at the cops. They successfully worked both sides. At some point after the riot squad was brought out, someone in a MAGA hat showed up and started antagonizing protesters. He was chased down but in doing so, the crowd got split in half. Suddenly, the cops came around the corner and started pepper-spraying people and shooting pellets directly into the gathering crowd.
I saw a woman, blood pouring down her face being carried away by fellow protesters. I spoke to a young man who had been pepper-sprayed moments earlier. He confirmed what I already knew to be true: the police were targeting anyone in the vicinity of where the MAGA-sshole had been chased down. The police’s brutal escalation had everyone outraged.
A couple dozen protesters, myself included, decided to make a human shield by sitting on the concrete between the cops and everyone else. We must’ve sat there for two hours roasting in the hot sun. In my line of sight, I counted at least fifty officers with about twenty of them up front, facing us. And I’m not even touching on the amount of officers on the PD lawn. In total there had to have been hundreds. They each had various weapons, some of which were definitely filled with actual bullets. While we sat there we could hear more pellets being shot around the corner of the parking garage. We could taste tear gas and soot in the air. Someone came to inform us that two cop cars were on fire and that a protester who was fiddling with his phone took a pellet to the face and started having a seizure. That was probably around 5:30pm. Our peaceful line became obsolete as our numbers dwindled and we were pushed back toward the parking garage. The cops had managed to get protesters off their lawn so at this point, there was basically nowhere to go but down the street on which those cars were smoldering.
Someone lit the third police car on fire. There were a couple more cars on fire inside the parking garage. The smoke was really thick but from my vantage point, I saw something that really sketched me out. I watched a middle aged white guy (who was definitely not part of the protest) shimmy his way between a fence and a building just next to the flaming cars. He lit a bunch of firecrackers and hid behind another building. As he did this a second time, I looked up the street toward the PD where there were still protesters holding the line. I heard more pellets being shot and a tear-gas canister go off. The wind was carrying all this smoke and gas toward us so we crossed over to the corner adjacent from the Aloft hotel, hoping to get a little bit of air. The remaining protesters had now all been pushed down the street toward where we had been standing. It must’ve been just past 7pm at that point.
I watched a middle aged white guy (who was definitely not part of the protest) shimmy his way between a fence and a building just next to the flaming cars. He lit a bunch of firecrackers and hid behind another building.
Angry protesters started smashing the windows of the hotel then moved on to the jewelry store. It proved to be impenetrable but I watched on as people busted all the windows and security cameras. An armored vehicle rushed toward the scene and began shooting at the angry protesters as well as peaceful bystanders. It was absolute chaos. People ran in every direction and hid behind whatever they could. I ended up cowering with a group of young ladies behind a parked car. More tear gas filled the air. Me and the other ladies scattered. I ran away as fast as I could.
At no other point in my life have I been so terrified that I nearly wet myself. It is not a feeling I look forward to having again. But that momentary feeling pales in comparison to the anxiety People of Color face every single day. For a few minutes I genuinely feared for my life. I was afraid of the police, the state troopers and the national guard firing at all of us. I wasn’t however, at any point, afraid of the angry protesters or what they were doing because if I had to live with that feeling on the daily, I would want to break things too. If my loved one had been brutally murdered by the people sworn to protect us, I would want to burn things to the ground. If my people were systematically killed for no other reason than the color of their skin, I would fucking retaliate.
Yesterday escalated to destruction of property BECAUSE the police were violent toward protesters, not the other way around. That is what I witnessed. Say what you will about how horrible you think the people destroying businesses and cars, but those things are replaceable. What isn’t replaceable is someone’s life. And last I checked protesters and rioters weren’t targeting people, only places and things. The cops however clearly didn’t give a rat’s ass who they hurt.
What follows are two videos taken at the same time from two different perspectives. The first is from local SC WLTX News 19 from well behind police lines. What the camera crews and reports can see is very different from what is happening. You can hear rubber bullets firing and see tear gas clouds. The next video is filmed by The State from the protestor side of the police line.
The actions you hear in WLTX News report, you can see here. Peaceful protestors are being pushed back with rubber bullets and tear gas. The “incendiaries” being hurled at the riot police is actual protestor picking up the tear gas canisters and throwing them back.
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