CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – What started as a peaceful Black Lives Matters protest in Marion Square escalated into vandalism and violence in downtown Charleston.
Thousands of people gathered Saturday afternoon to demand justice for George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died after being restrained by police. Protestors have taken to the streets in cities across the United States.
By nightfall, a group of demonstrators – police believe about 50 to 100 individuals – gathered in the streets of downtown Charleston to cause damage and violence throughout the city.
Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said he believes many of these individuals who began the violent acts were not even from the Charleston area.
Many businesses in the downtown area experienced damage to windows and storefronts, like the Apple Store and Hotel Bennet. Tear gas was fired at demonstrators and fires were set at a number of businesses like West Elm, Fuel and Family Dollar.
During a press conference, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg announced a countywide curfew that was enacted from 11:00 p.m. Saturday through 7:00 a.m. Sunday.
Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis and the Mount Pleasant Police Department dispatched multiple units to assist the Charleston Police Department to keep the peace downtown.
SWAT teams arrived and activated their Long Range Acoustic Device, which sends a loud, ear-piercing directional sound at protestors in addition to using tear gas to disperse crowds.
Saturday afternoon’s Black Lives Matter protest, which remained peaceful, began at Marion Square just after 2:00 p.m. with individuals standing in solidarity as they called for justice in Floyd’s death and called for change in use of force by law enforcement officers across the nation.
Protesters marched down King Street as they chanted “I can’t breathe,” “no justice, no peace,” “don’t shoot,” “black lives matter” and other phrases throughout the afternoon.
Groups also gathered at White Point Garden down at The Battery where they heard speeches from local elected officials like Rep. Marvin Pendarvis.
The Confederate Defenders of Charleston statue located at the corner of White Point Garden was vandalized as one point during demonstrations.
Authorities from the City of Charleston and neighboring Mount Pleasant were on hand for the rally. Police were seen in riot gear as they monitored crowds and attempted to keep the peace.
The protesters eventually returned to Marion Square where they continued their peaceful demonstrations and chants for justice. But the protests would soon move to I-26 where all lanes of traffic were blocked for some time.
Officers shut down the Arthur Ravenel Bridge to keep protesters from accessing the roadway and began a detour traffic that was backed up in the area.