Lawmaker calls for permits to hold Statehouse rallies after recent confrontations

Sen. Harvey Peeler (right), R-Gaffney, said Tuesday the protests should have been held on different days, or, at the very least, different times.

COLUMBIA — Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler has announced he will introduce legislation that would require a permit to hold protests and rallies at the Statehouse.

The Gaffney Republican issued a written release Wednesday afternoon, a day after he and other lawmakers questioned the Department of Administration’s decision allowing the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Educators for Justice to hold dueling protests on July 18.

“Common sense is needed in determining the who, when and where for demonstration activity, and I didn’t hear a lot of that (Tuesday) in our State House Committee hearing,” Peeler said in the release. “When I hear a 40-year law enforcement veteran say the July 18th rallies were the worst situation he’s ever seen, it’s time to do something.”

The Department of Administration’s director, Nolan Wiggins, said during the meeting that the agency scheduled both rallies on the same day to avoid a First Amendment lawsuit against the state. The agency scheduled the Loyal White Nights of the Ku Klux Klan for 3 to 5 p.m. and the Black Educators for Justice, a group affiliated with the New Black Panthers Party, for noon to 4 p.m.

Police had to break up several scuffles and arrested five people during the rallies, held amid the strife over the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds and the killings of nine Emanuel AME Church parishioners in what authorities have described as a racially motivated hate crime.

To avoid future confrontations, Peeler has asked the agency to mimic the guidelines used at the nation’s capital until he can pre-file a bill in December for the session beginning in January.

“If the United States Capitol can designate areas for such activity and comply with the First Amendment of the Constitution, then the South Carolina Statehouse can too,” Peeler said.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.