“We just want everyone to know that we do value our black men. We value our lives. We want to fight for what is right. We believe that you can’t be quiet during situations like these because if you’re quiet during situations of injustice, that means you’re neutral to the situation. If you’re neutral to the situation, then you’re just as bad as the oppressor,” said Simmons. “There are a lot of people who do not think race is an issue with all of these recent killings that have been happening. There are a lot of people who don’t see an issue when there is clearly a reoccurring problem. Race is an issue. Race is a factor. We want people to see that.”
As those attending the demonstration gathered around the sound of a beating drum, Black Lives Matter Charleston organizer Muhiyidin d’Baha announced that Wednesday’s event was not a performance. Standing at the center of the crowd, he led a passionate plea for a more representative police force, more citizen oversight for law enforcement agencies, and real-world change. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg looked on as b’Baha and others shared their feelings of frustration following another week of highly publicized shootings. The mayor briefly joined marchers as they wrapped their way around Marion Square. As a heavy police presence looked on, those leading the demonstration asked everyone to remain respectful and stay on the sidewalk as they marched. As they rounded the park, demonstrators paused at the statue of American statesman and slave owner John C. Calhoun that overlooks the square and momentarily huddled at the entrance of the Embassy Suites.
As they continued to march, a few demonstrators splintered off into the streets. While a vast majority of the crowd regrouped to continue the conversation on systemic injustice, a handful of young men stretched banners reading “Black Lives Matter” and “No Racist Police” across the intersection of King and Calhoun streets, disrupting traffic for a moment. Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen initially gestured to his fellow officers to stand back while he spoke to the small group of demonstrators. The men then began to move closer to the sidewalk, while shouting "No justice. No peace." As the police continued to clear the street, d'Baha approached, telling the officers that the men had the right to chant on the corner. With everyone out of the roadway, the scene settled. But it wouldn't be the last moment of tension that night.
According to a statement released by the Charleston Police Department, no arrests were made during the demonstration, but one officer was hit in the chest with "a piece of brick-like material" after the demonstration when a "sub-group" of protesters left Marion Square and began marching downtown. Police intervened near the intersection of Broad and King streets after the group began blocking traffic. Advised not to let protesters continue north on King Street, the officers formed a line to block the way. Authorities say it was at this point that an object was thrown from the crowd, striking an officer. The officer was not seriously injured, but he was taken to the hospital for a medical evaluation.
Before leaving Marion Square, demonstrators sat in a circle at the center of the park to listen on as speakers took turns sharing their stories. A helicopter circled overhead as d’Baha and others continued to describe the objectives for change outlined by Black Lives Matter Charleston, such as establishing a citizens review board to improve police accountability, supporting black-owned businesses, and improving public influence on police recruitment and policy.
“Can we have unity without justice? Can all lives matter until black lives matter? If we can’t have unity until we have justice, what do we have to do? Fight for justice. The thing that we really want to understand and that the mass media does is put unity before justice,” said d’Baha. “It puts all lives matter before black lives matter. What that sets up in everybody’s mind is that if you’re fighting for justice, you must be doing something wrong. If you’re protesting, you must be doing something wrong. But you’re not doing anything wrong. Understand that until we can look at one another and know that we live under a flag that stands for justice and liberty for all and we’re actually living that — until we’re doing that, there can be no justice and no unity.”
A crowd of hundreds gathered at Marion Square Wednesday evening to speak out against racially motivated police violence following the recent shootings of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. One of the event’s organizers, Paris Simmons, made it clear that the demonstration was not intended to be a riot or a rally. Instead, the rising junior on break from Spelman College said the peaceful protest was an effort to raise awareness of the value of black lives in the community.