Anti-violence march shuts down I-126

COLUMBIA — Interstate 126 into Columbia was shut down late Sunday night for nearly an hour as more than 500 people marched through the city to protest police violence, following a path that later saw them occupy the Statehouse steps.

Chanting “No Justice, No Peace — No Racist Police” the crowd originally left from the Statehouse during the early evening, going down Main Street before ending up at the Statehouse again. They even passed the Governor’s Mansion after dark.

City intersections were blocked to car traffic as the marchers made it to their turnaround point near I-126 on the north side of town. The group — a mix of black and white mostly young people — marched as far as 4 miles across the city.

Some angry slurs were yelled at police but there were no arrests or incidents of violence immediately reported.

By 10:30 p.m., at least 300 people were planted on the front steps of the Statehouse. Police stood above them at the very top step, separating the protestors from the heavy wood-and-glass doors leading to the center lobby. No arrests were immediately reported there either.

Gov. Nikki Haley issued a statement on the march late Sunday.

“While I appreciate the peaceful intent of this weekend’s rallies, I’d ask that we not put our fellow citizens or law enforcement at risk — which is exactly what attempting to block highways does,” she said.

“Instead, let us remember the feelings of respect, cooperation, and brotherhood that brought our state through the last year, and made South Carolina an example, for all the world, of how to move forward in the wake of tragedy,” her statement added.

During the march through the city streets, police let the crowd continue on its route unimpeded. Some of the marchers had bandanas around their faces. One girl sat in the street, cross-legged, while police stood by. She yelled “Black Lives Matter” several times. Others yelled “Stop shooting us,” while some protestors questioned black officers as to why they chose to become police.

Lamar Kelly of Columbia, one of the occupiers on the steps, said he wasn’t surprised at the turnout because of last week violence across the nation.

“The youth is listening and following,” he said. “They might not be following for the right reasons but by being here we can plant a good seed.”

Robbie Pruitt, also of Columbia, said he took part because he is a Christian. “If all lives matter, black lives have to matter too,” he said. “We’ve all got to stand together.”

The Columbia protest comes after the shooting deaths of three black men at the hands of police in the past week, including in Louisiana, Minnesota and on Sunday in Houston, Texas. It also follows the killing of five white police officers in Dallas by a black man that authorities described as a racially motivated attack.

The Columbia march also came just hours after pro-Confederate groups had raised the rebel flag at the Statehouse earlier Sunday, marking the one-year anniversary of it being removed in the wake of the Emanuel AME Church shootings.

Patrick Tate, one of the anti-police violence protest organizers, said it was important to hold rallies and marches like what he put together Sunday to bring attention to police brutality.

“People say, why march?” Tate said to the crowd. “But social media is powerful. And we have power to change things.”

State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, who is also the House minority leader, was at the Statehouse occupation. “People are demanding change, that’s why I’m here not as a leader, but as a supporter,” he said.

The crowd had dwindled down to 75 people by 11:15 p.m. Sunday.

Columbia’s march was calm in comparison to event in Baton Rouge, La., where officers with rifles were blocking the ramps to keep protesters off Interstate 10 in downtown Baton Rouge on Sunday, and about 130 people have been taken into custody as marches continue over shootings by police.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s “very proud” of the Louisiana law enforcement response to protests over the fatal shooting of a black man, Alton Sterling, by white police officers in the city.

The tumult reached well beyond Louisiana. In Minnesota, authorities said 21 law enforcement officers were hurt and about 100 people were arrested late Saturday and early Sunday during clashes in the state capital over the police killing of Philando Castile. And hundreds of protesters in Memphis, Tenn., occupied a key bridge over the Mississippi River, blocking an interstate highway for hours.

Traffic on Interstate 40 stopped in both directions after Black Lives Matter protesters marched onto the bridge. Police in squad cars tried to stop them, but several hundred had already made their way up the ramp, and the crowd swelled to more than 1,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Monday to correct which highway protestors shut down.