By Brett Gillin
Over the weekend, two groups that could not be more diametrically opposed in their beliefs met on the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse, each with their own agendas. On one side, white supremacists and KKK members rallied to protest the removal of the Confederate flag from the steps of the Capitol. On the other side, Black Educators for Justice and the New Black Panther Party were marching for racial equality and calling for leadership to do more than simply take down the flag. In the middle, tasked with keeping the protests peaceful, were the police. In what could have become yet another story of full-blown riots, instead, the most poignant image that came from the protests came out of the kindness of a police officer doing his job when many others may have turned their backs.
not an uncommon example of humanity in SC: Leroy Smith helps white supremacist to shelter & water as heat bears down. pic.twitter.com/GoF23r3mRe
— Rob Godfrey (@RobGodfrey) July 18, 2015
Racial intolerance was on full display, despite many at the rally claiming that the Confederate flag stands for no such thing. As you can see in the video above from Reuters, several white supremacists took turns mocking and hurling insults at the black counter-protestors. At the same time, according to this article in the Daily Mail, protestors took turns burning and ripping up Confederate flags, further enticing the already amped-up crowd.
Through it all, though, the heavy police presence managed to keep the protests mostly peaceful. In fact, despite a few minor skirmishes, only a few minor injuries, three arrests, and a small amount of property damage, caused by a light pole being struck by a car, was reported. The image that many will remember from this weekend’s protests is not that of burning flags, or even that of Nazi salutes and Black Panther fists in the air, but the image of a police officer putting everything aside to aid a person who many would have abandoned.
Police officer Leroy Smith, the director of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, who also happens to be a black man, noticed an elderly white man in distress. According to Time, the man was suffering signs of distress caused by the heat and began trying to make his way up the Capitol steps and into the shade. The man, who was wearing a National Socialist Movement t-shirt with a large Nazi symbol dead-center, might not have made it up the steps himself, but for the help of Officer Smith. Smith, putting aside the fact that the man was wearing a symbol that almost certainly shows hatred for the color of his skin, took the man by the arm and led him to the shade.
Unsurprisingly, a photograph taken by Rob Godfrey of Officer Smith helping the elderly man went viral in minutes. With the picture, Godfrey tweeted “Not an uncommon example of humanity in SC: Leroy Smith helps white supremacist to shelter & water as heat bears down.”