CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The leader of a local advocacy group was arrested on Tuesday for leading a demonstration in downtown Charleston over the weekend.
Justin Hunt, who is with ‘Stand As One SC,’ was arrested shortly after a verdict was delivered in the Derek Chauvin trial for disorderly conduct and violation of a permit.
Hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered in downtown Charleston on Sunday afternoon calling for justice following the deaths of Daunte Wright in Minnesota and Adam Toledo in Chicago, and racial inequality in law enforcement.
“Let’s not confuse the narrative. We protested today with over 100 people,” said Hunt after Sunday’s demonstration which ended in a candlelight vigil. “No one got hurt, no one got assaulted. That’s not our goal – our goal is to express ourselves, and our goal is to express how we feel peacefully.”
A spokesman for the Charleston Police Department told News 2 no permits were given for Sunday’s demonstration.
Stand As One held a press conference outside the Charleston Police Department Headquarters on Tuesday addressing the Derek Chauvin trial and policing when Hunt was arrested.
They called Tuesday’s news regarding a guilty verdict not a victory, but a step of progress in the right direction. “It’s a step in the right direction to address racial bias and racism, so I felt a little relieved,” Hunt said.
Police also arrested 28-year-old David Austin Bennet for disorderly conduct and violation of a permit.
Local activists tell News 2 they are upset over the arrest and plan to address it Wednesday afternoon.
Local activists say while leaders speak of a need for unity, they say this sends a different message.
“Justin Hunt could’ve been a hashtag this morning,” says Pastor Thomas Dixon.
“I was unlawfully arrested for peacefully protesting, exercising my first amendment right peacefully,” says Justin Hunt.
Hours after talking with Charleston law enforcement leaders on how to bridge-the-gap on racial justice and police brutality.
“It’s just frustrating that I can be at the same table with heads of law enforcement in the morning and be treated like an animal by law enforcement at night,” says Hunt.
Chants and calls for equal rights, the sounds traveling through the streets of Downtown Charleston on Sunday night as Hunt and others protested ahead of the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial.
“Give us our freedom of speech, allow us to protest, pass out permits, the ones who do have when we want roads shut down,” says Hunt. “And we want to be able to walk with our community.”
And while Charleston leaders have committed to unity and a stronger together, Pastor Thomas Dixon says the arrest sends a different message.
“It tells me that a lot of what is said and let me specify within the City of Charleston, that it’s just lip service,” says Pastor Dixon.
Hunt says he was arrested and “trapped” by Charleston police officers. Leaders within the police department say the goal is to make arrests at the safest opportunity for all involved.
“So we’re going to wait until the opportunity presents itself for a safe arrest with the least confrontation as possible,” says Jason Bruder, Captain, Special Operations for the Charleston Police Department.
Since July 1st, 2020 the Charleston Police Department has received a 115 requests for a permit, they say 4 have been denied. Hunt says he feels his group has faced a double standard but CPD says the permitting process is the same across the board.
“We’re not here to interrupt anybody from executing their constitutional rights, we just want to make sure people do it safely,” says Captain of the Charleston Police Department’s Central Investigations Bureau, Andre Jenkins.
Activists say yesterday’s events signify one step forward and two steps back when it comes to the gap with law enforcement.
“This right here, this whole incident with Justin last night is a slap in the face,” says Activist Jason Jones.
“And I’m being treated like a criminal,” says Hunt. “That’s all I’ve really got to say.”
The Charleston Police Department released a statement on the arrests, saying two individuals were arrested for failing to obtain a permit and disorderly conduct for leading a large group Sunday evening.
“These men, who are very familiar with the permitting process, intentionally chose to gather a large protest group without requesting a permit and without stating their plan, per city requirements. They also attempted to disrupt traffic and, despite being told where they could safely protest, took this group of approximately 115 people onto a roadway, forcing the closure of King and Society Streets and creating a standoff with police.”
Hunt was released from the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center on Wednesday. But in a video message posted to his Facebook page, Hunt said he was headed back to the detention center to turn himself in because “they made a mistake” in releasing him.
“It’s our God-given right to protest,” he said in the video. “We aren’t violent. If I was that violent, no one would have allowed me to walk into jail and communicate with the inmates if I was a threat.
Both Hunt and Bennet were later released from the detention center late Wednesday afternoon where they held that press conference with fellow activists.