One year later: Reflecting on the May 2020 riot

Charleston County News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – After the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd — an unarmed African American man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis — protests and riots rocked cities across the country, including the Holy City.

That night, now part of history, is seared into our collective memory. One year later, we caught up with some of the people impacted by the riots.

As night fell on May 30, Charleston began to simmer after a day of mostly peaceful protests. And then it exploded.

Cars on fire, store fronts busted, rioters fighting police and each other.

“I honestly didn’t think folks would take to the streets,” said Mika Gadsden, an organizer and podcast host. “I was completely caught off guard. I didn’t think that that type of protest could exist… here.”

She said that she was “deeply disturbed to see tanks come down the street,” and could not understand the militarized police response to unarmed protesters.

James Bessenger, an LGBTQ conservative activist, was also protesting that day — but not because he believes Floyd’s death was racially motivated.

“I have a hard time making the argument that it’s a racial thing when you look at the numbers because it happens to other races more often.”

“The problem is policing,” he said.

“A year later we hate each other. Our country is on fire,” he said. “I’m a conservative, I have family in law enforcement, but I’ll be the first to tell you police reform needs to happen.”

He went on to say, “I have met police officers that are probably racist as hell. I know I’ve met some that are homophobic here in Charleston.”

Cameron Blazer is an attorney in Mount Pleasant. She was neither surprised by the protests nor the riot.

“If George Floyd didn’t die, May 31st wouldn’t have happened in Charleston,” she said. “When the government fails to answer the concerns of the people, I think this is what you will see. You can expect to see property damaged.”

She now represents people who were arrested that night.

One year later, she expects protests – peaceful and destructive – to happen again.

“Like it or not, until change happens, until people who don’t look like me feel safe, we should expect these disruptions,” she said.

Charleston Police Department (CPD) Chief Luther Reynolds agrees that change is needed. The response was not up to par, Reynolds admits. The spontaneity of the protest, according to Reynolds, was a significant and inhibiting factor.

“If we knew ahead of time, to be able to get more resources more quickly. Because a riot like that takes a lot of staffing.”

Reynolds says that while improvements may be slow, he hopes they will be steady, and that he is doing his part to ensure that necessary changes are made.

“I can tell you as a good leader, I better be listening to that voice,” Reynolds said, “and that voice is growing. It’s louder and louder. It’s not going to go away.”

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