Sheriff: Law enforcement taking NAACP threats, KKK fliers seriously

This Ku Klux Klan flyer was distributed in the Dorchester Waylyn neighborhood in North Charleston earlier this month. Residents responded with their own flier promoting racial harmony.

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are working together to investigate Ku Klux Klan fliers that turned up in an area neighborhood and recent threats made against the NAACP.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, Assistant North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess, Mount Pleasant Police Chief Carl Ritchie, and representatives from the State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI joined Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon during a news conference Friday at the Sheriff’s Office.

“I just felt it was important that we reassure the community out there,” Cannon said. “We are on the job.”

Klan fliers with the traditional hooded figure were left on car windows in the Dorchester Waylyn neighborhood in North Charleston earlier this month.

Someone also called the Charleston chapter of the NAACP several times over the past two weeks and threatened their lives, President Dot Scott said.

“We get threats all the time, but when you get direct threats that, ‘We’re going to blow your head off,’ we need to be serious about that. ... Never before have we been threatened that they’re going to kill us,” Scott said.

Scott acknowledged that the Klan has a right to pass out fliers, “but when we know that it’s being specifically placed in black neighborhoods, they’re not recruiting — they’re terrorizing.”

Asked how many threats her office has received, Scott responded, “so much so that we had to stop answering the phone.”

She thanked the law enforcement agencies for not turning a blind eye to the situation.

The fliers and threats follow the fatal shooting of nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The mass killing has been described by investigators as a racially motivated hate crime.

“I’m not over the Emanuel nine and I don’t want to see somebody in our office killed simply because we’re trying to do civil rights work,” Scott said. “We can’t live in fear. We shouldn’t have to.”

Ed Bryant, president of the NAACP’s North Charleston chapter, said his office also has received threats. He plans to submit four written complaints to law enforcement, he said.

The timing of the threats raises concerns, Cannon said. He encouraged the public to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement to help further the investigation.

A few out-of-state juveniles have been taken into custody and questioned as part of the investigation, which spans several states, Cannon said. He would not elaborate on specific charges the juveniles could face or what it is they are suspected of doing. Generally speaking, though, he said state and federal charges could include making harassing phone calls and making threats against public officials.

“I don’t think there has been a tremendous number (of threats). I don’t think that anything we’ve seen thus far rises to the level of posing a very serious threat,” Cannon said. The threats do, however, make people uncomfortable and concerned for their safety, he said.

The agencies hope to alleviate those fears by ensuring the community that they are taking the threats seriously, Cannon said.

The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which is headquartered in Pelham, N.C., plans to hold a rally Saturday in Columbia to protest the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds.

Local agencies will benefit from watching how law enforcement in Columbia handle the situation, Cannon said.

“As much as people may not agree with or like the fact that the Klan is marching in Columbia, the fact of the matter is they’ve got a right to do that as long as it’s done within the law,” Cannon said.

Law enforcement is engaged in a “very delicate balancing act” to preserve and protect those rights while also preventing violence, he said.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.