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Dozens protest at Charleston Battery to honor victims of Mother Emanuel AME shooting

  • Updated

About four dozen protesters took to the Charleston Battery on Sunday to honor the victims of the 2015 Mother Emanuel AME shooting. The fifth anniversary of the shooting is Wednesday.

The peaceful protest was planned "in honor of those in our community who lost their lives to white supremacy," according to the homeless advocacy group Uplift Charleston.

But tensions ran high as the protesters faced off with a handful of supporters of the Confederate flag, who gather at the Confederate soldiers' monument beside The Battery every Sunday. The monument, called the Confederate Defenders of Charleston, was erected in 1932. 

Sunday was Flag Day, honoring the Stars and Stripes, not the Confederate banner.

The Charleston area and much of the country entered its third week of protests on Friday and Saturday, part of the nationwide movement after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer as he was handcuffed on the ground. That officer and three others have been charged.

Protesters in South Carolina and across the country have drawn awareness to issues like police brutality, systemic racism and structural inequalities.

Aaron Comstock, leader of Uplift Charleston, said it’s the third Sunday he’s organized protests at The Battery, though he’s shown up as much as he could the past five years to protest displays of the Confederate flag.

“These flags do not represent our country and our community,” Comstock said.

“If they’re going to show the hate, we’re going to show the opposite,” he said. He wanted visitors to the city to know the flag displays aren’t representative of most of South Carolina.

battery blur.jpg

Protesters gather on the High Battery to honor the victims of the 2015 Mother Emanuel AME shooting on Sunday, June 14, 2020. Lauren Petracca/Staff

As protesters readied their signs, a tourist from Vermont walked by, thanking them for protesting.

“It’s a shame they feel it’s okay to fly that,” Comstock said. “They don’t listen to black voices.”

Confrontations soon started between protesters and supporters of the Confederate flag.

The two groups shouted at each other, with a few protesters crossing the street to argue face-to-face.

“We know you’re a lost cause,” protesters told them.

One of the Confederate flag supporters was heard several times saying, “Where would African Americans be without slavery?”

The man, Barney Mazursky, told the protesters they should vote if they wanted to change things.

“Where was your vote in 2016?” he said.

Mazursky told The Post and Courier he lives near the Battery and decided to join the flag supporters for the first time spontaneously on Sunday. He used to be a parole and probation officer in Orangeburg, he said. While the rest of the Confederate flag supporters mainly talked among themselves, he engaged with protesters directly.

Mother and daughter

Krystal Townsend brought her daughter to Sunday's protest in Charleston, S.C., on Sunday, June 14, 2020. “Enough is enough, and we’re tired of being tired,” she said. The protest at the High Battery marked five years since the Mother Emanuel AME shooting, which claimed nine lives. Fleming Smith/Staff

At times, each side just faced each other in a silent standoff.

Krystal Townsend said it was her first protest and she brought her daughter.

“Enough is enough, and we’re tired of being tired,” she said. It was especially important to her as a biracial woman.

She was born in Los Angeles but has been here since 2000, and she said it wasn’t surprising to see the confrontations between protesters and Confederate flag supporters.

Kristal Cook now lives in Aiken, but drove down to Charleston for the anniversary of the Mother Emanuel AME shooting. She made a shirt that listed the names of the shooting’s nine victims.

She was shocked that flag supporters showed up during the week of the anniversary.

“They could have taken a day off,” Cook said.

On the other side of the street, Confederate flag supporters disputed that the Civil War, or the Confederacy, had anything to do with slavery.

Modern historians agree that Southern states began the Confederacy in order to preserve slavery as the cornerstone of their economic system.

Braxton Spivey, with Flags Across The South, said he will only call the conflict Lincoln’s War or The War of Northern Aggression.

Spivey criticized the protesters. “What they’re protesting results from Floyd being killed," he said. "Why is it even down here in Charleston?"

He and the others are against racism, he said. “How can you judge me based on a piece of cloth?”

With him, Allen Smith condemned Floyd’s death and said Dylann Roof was “a very evil man.” But he said property destruction went too far in any protests of such injustices.

Merrill Towns Chapman said this was her fourth protest in the past few weeks, but her first on Sunday.

Honk

Kristal Cook, of Aiken, made a shirt that listed the names of the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting’s nine victims. She traveled to Charleston, S.C., on Sunday, June 14, 2020, for a protest in their honor, but was shocked that supporters of the Confederate flag were there the week of the anniversary. “They could have taken a day off,” she said. Fleming Smith/Staff

“Silence is part of the problem,” she said. “Being a white person, we have to speak up and stand up for what is wrong and coming out is crucially important to be in our community and say what we’re doing to black people is wrong.”

One protester who has gone to The Battery on and off for years said she’s often told to “go back up North.”

Now, her signs says to her opponents that she was born and raised in South Carolina.

At about 11:45 a.m., protesters started crossing the street to stand in front of the Confederate flag supporters, holding up signs and flags saying "Black Lives Matter."

A few minutes later, most of the flag supporters began to leave. But Mazursky remained to face off with protesters. “You have no sense of history,” he shouted at them.

Across the street, Comstock held up a boom box playing, “Fight the Power.” As the protest winded down, he took his large Black Lives Matter flag and hoisted it onto the Confederate soldiers' monument.

Sandino Moses, a commissioner for the Charleston County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said he was glad to see people of all ethnicities gather to protest, as well as to honor the Emanuel shooting's anniversary.

"People need to understand that Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream was just not only for blacks. It was for everyone to climb the mountain," he said. "This is what it's all about."

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Reach Fleming Smith at 843-937-5591. Follow her on Twitter at @MFlemingSmith.

Fleming Smith covers crime and public safety for the Charleston area. A native Georgian, she previously covered breaking news and features for The Wall Street Journal and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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