“I hope this photo will be a catalyst for people to work to overcome some of the hatred and violence we have seen in our country in recent weeks.”
The black director of South Carolina’s public safety agency said on Monday he was surprised a photo showing him helping a white man wearing a racist t-shirt had gone viral. But he is hoping it will be a catalyst for people to work toward overcoming hatred and violence.
Leroy Smith said in a statement that the photo, taken at a Ku Klux Klan rally, captured “who we are in South Carolina” and represents what law enforcement is all about: helping people “regardless of the person’s skin color, nationality or beliefs”.
“I consider myself like every other officer who was out there braving the heat on Saturday to preserve and protect,” he said.
The photo, taken by Governor Nikki Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey, shows Smith leading the unidentified man, who is suffering from the heat, to shade at the top of the statehouse steps, to be treated by local emergency workers. The man has a swastika on his t-shirt.
The photo shows just the hand of black Columbia fire chief Aubrey Jenkins, who also was assisting the man.
“I hope this photo will be a catalyst for people to work to overcome some of the hatred and violence we have seen in our country in recent weeks,” Smith said.
The North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the KKK, a white supremacist group, scheduled a rally to protest the removal of the Confederate battle flag from statehouse grounds a week earlier. State officials gave the group permission to rally on the opposite side of the building from where the flag flew on a 30-foot (9m) pole for the last 15 years.
The flag was flown by troops supporting the secessionist, pro-slavery southern states during the 1861-65 American civil war.
A Florida group affiliated with the New Black Panther Party was given permission to hold a rally on the side where a monument to Confederate soldiers still stands. The rallies overlapped, and tensions escalated.