A photo has emerged online, capturing the moment that black South Carolina police officer Leroy Smith assisted a member of the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, to safety after he suffered from the heat during a protest rally on Saturday, July 18.
The KKK rally was in protest of the decision by the South Carolina authorities to remove the Confederate flag flown outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia for decades.
Heated debate over the presence of the flag on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse was sparked after the tragic incident in which self-confessed white supremacist Dylann Roof shot nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, in June.
The photo, snapped by Associated Press photographer Rob Godfrey, went viral after it was posted to Twitter Saturday evening, and has been shared thousands of times.
It shows Director of Public Safety Leroy Smith helping a disoriented-looking elderly man, dressed in a T-shirt of the white supremacist National Socialist Movement (NSM), up the stairs into the shade to escape the intense heat, reportedly 95-97 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Rob Godfrey @RobGodfrey
not an uncommon example of humanity in SC: Leroy Smith helps white supremacist to shelter & water as heat bears down.
3:54 PM – 18 Jul 2015”
“Robert Bogan @RobertEBoganEsq
@RobGodfrey @SCDPS_PIO That is not just any officer. It is the DIRECTOR of the Department of Public Safety leading us all by example.
7:44 PM – 18 Jul 2015”
Many social media users praised Smith’s humane act and his ability to resist being consumed by petty feelings of racial hatred and bigotry.
@bijancbayne @RobGodfrey @robgreeneII This kindness chokes me up. How do SC people find that well of caring in the midst of so much hatred?
2:07 AM – 19 Jul 2015”
“Mr. Vegas @MrVegas
Music I would do the same as the police officer! Love conquers all! “Black police officer, assisting KKK member, after heat stroke”
1:44 AM – 19 Jul 2015″
“Bijan C. Bayne @bijancbayne
.@RobGodfrey @robgreeneII This is why smart folk say, ‘I haven’t the energy to hate.’ “
But a few social media users wondered why Smith bothered to help the elderly man, bearing in mind what they considered his dishonorable mission at the South Carolina Statehouse.
Some even condemned Smith’s action, angrily.
“BIG BO$$ ROCK 106 @YNGPfounder
@RobGodfrey @SydneyKayBee that cop is a cornball
4:30 PM – 18 Jul 2015”
The website MIC reports that the group involved in Saturday’s protest was North Carolina’s Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The information confirms previous allegations that groups from outside South Carolina have played a major role in fueling recent tensions in the state.
The KKK members clashed with members of the group called Black Educators for Justice, based in Jacksonville, Florida. Protesters on both sides, numbering about 2,000, engaged in rock-throwing and other disorderly behavior.
Police arrested five protesters and charged them with breach of peace, assault, and disorderly conduct.