Law enforcement set up a staging area for detained protesters along Meeting Street
Police wearing body armor shot gas and handcuffed peaceful protesters in downtown Charleston Sunday afternoon, steps from King Street where rioters broke windows and looted businesses less than 24 hours earlier.
"What I witnessed was a police response to nonviolent protest with pure violence," said Frank Knaack, leader of the American Civil Liberties Union of SC. "It was deeply disturbing."
One person arrested described rough treatment by officers as they attempted to gather peacefully in Marion Square.
In all, 42 people were arrested and charged with disobeying a lawful order between Friday and Sunday, according to a Charleston Police Department spokesman. Of those, jail records show at least 35 were booked on Sunday afternoon after law enforcement was seen detaining protesters assembling peacefully in Marion Square and along Meeting Street.
Charleston protesters first gathered during the day Saturday to call for an end to long-standing racial injustice at the hands of police. The most recent high-profile victim, George Floyd, died on May 25 after a Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, ignoring his pleas for help.
Protesters marched downtown for hours on Saturday with only "minor" incidents, according to Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds. But as night fell, after initial gatherings broke up, some turned destructive. On King Street, rioters broke dozens of windows, looted store shelves and set fires inside at least two businesses.
Reynolds said Saturday's events resulted in about 10 arrests.
Police responded with an increased presence Sunday, including armored vehicles and reinforcements from a half-dozen other law enforcement agencies ahead of a countywide 6 p.m. curfew. The National Guard was on call.
Police blocked off Calhoun and Meeting Street as protesters gathered in Marion Square Sunday
With a group of marchers flushed into Marion Square by officers with time to spare before the curfew, armored police were assembled, armed and flanked by a government surplus combat vehicle.
"Police showing up in full riot gear to a nonviolent protest with armored vehicles … was troubling from the get-go," Knaack said. "Nonviolent protesters were met with tear gas and other projectiles being launched at them."
Charleston police have not responded to requests for information about whether nonlethal rounds were fired at protesters on Sunday, but gas was previously fired at destructive protesters on Saturday night.
While kneeling in Marion Square, Kayla Hill of Saint Stephen got caught up with her sister as officers "ganged" a nearby protester who was doing nothing wrong, she says. She was arrested and booked Sunday night before being bailed out Monday morning.
Charleston officials have said
the protesters were assembled without a permit and were ordered to disperse. Marion Square functions as a public park but is privately owned.
Hill says police told her she was not under arrest and was never read her rights or told of the charges against her until she was given handed a ticket with her court date.
Knaack says the ACLU of SC is reviewing video from Sunday's protests for any legal issues with how things were conducted, but raised issues with the police reaction.
"All of the actions we saw from law enforcement were way out of proportion in terms of their aggressiveness and the use of extreme violence against nonviolent protesters," Knaack said.