May 30 Riots Among Charleston’s Most Destructive – Future Riots Are Preventable, Says National Action Network’s Nelson Rivers

Community members gathered at Marion Square for a peaceful protest Sunday afternoon following a night of riots Saturday night. Photo: Tolbert Smalls

By Barney Blakeney

Saturday, May 30 heralded perhaps the most destructive rioting in Charleston history since the deadly downtown riot of 1934. Throngs of protesters raged onto downtown Charleston streets after hundreds of protesters responding to the May 25 police murder of George Floyd conducted an early afternoon peaceful assembly originating at Marion Square. By late evening the peaceful protest had morphed into full scale rioting.

Although widespread looting overshadowed the peaceful protests in some cities as protesters across the country marched in solidarity to protest Floyd’s killing, much of the Charleston riot consisted of vandalism. According to police spokesman Charles Francis there was a total of 62 arrests made May 30 through 7:00 a.m. June 1 – disobeying a lawful order 42; violation of curfew 5; burglary 2nd degree (violent) 2; burglary 2nd degree 1; damage to personal property 1; loitering 1; all other offenses; 10.

National Action Network Vice President, Religious Affairs and External Relations Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III said protests in Charleston today differ vastly from five years ago when North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shot unarmed Walter Scott five times in the back as Scott ran away. He said even after the June 17 racially motivated murder of nine parishioners at Emanuel AME the community’s leadership prevented wanton rioting, Rivers said.

Asked how riots resulting from police excessive force, abuse and homicide might be pre-empted Rivers said the problem of police abuse is systemic and requires systemic change. Some problems in the system might be revealed through race biased audits of police departments, he insists. But much of the change can happen through leadership in municipal and police administrations, he added. He noted former Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg maintained a tight rein on discipline in the Charleston Police Department during his administration from 1982-2005.

Citing that protests after the fact are essential because protests instigate change, Rivers said he feels racial bias audits are essential tools that can identify problems before they manifest. Change in policing strategies, both philosophical and in training, and racially diverse police departments create environments where subjects are seen as human, Rivers said.

“The challenge is to change the culture,” Rivers said. “That change must come from the leadership,” he said.

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