Officer LeRoy Smith, a black police officer captured helping a white supremacist at a KKK rally, wants the world to know: this is “who we are in South Carolina.”
The controversy over the Confederate flag focused on the state after the shootings of nine black parishioners at a church in its capital last month, at the hands of a white supremacist with a penchant for the southern cross. That controversy hit its peak when the state legislature voted to remove the flag from state grounds.
Officer Smith was there when two protests converged on the grounds. Near the now-empty flag pole, the Ku Klux Klan rallied to protest its removal — the state approved by their assembly, the Associated Press reported. A Florida-based New Black Panther Party also protested near a monument to Confederate soldiers.
LeRoy was there when the converging protests clashed under boiling temperatures this weekend. And things got ugly.
Two-thousand protesters ended up filling the statehouse grounds, CBS News reported. LeRoy — also director of the state’s public safety department — watched as people bullied each other and got into scraps, the details of which haven’t been released. A few people carried the Confederate flag near the black protestors. Forty KKK marched up the Capitol steps. Five people were arrested.
@rjoseph7777 Hats off to Leroy Smith for greeting ignorant hatred with grace, compassion and humanity. That's how racism dies.— The Angry Nurse (@The_Angry_Nurse) July 19, 2015
Whether he is acting out of duty or humanity, Leroy Smith gives me hope. https://t.co/HDCTWg6UQJ— David Wagoner (@DavidWagoner) July 19, 2015
Twenty-three protesters also needed medical attention, most of them treated for conditions related to the extreme heat. One of those men was the elderly fellow featured in the viral photo with Officer LeRoy Smith.
As people bickered and screamed at each other, Smith and a black fire chief from Columbia — Aubrey Jenkins — put whatever personal feelings they may have had aside and helped one ailing man.
This wouldn’t have been very incredible if not for a few glaring details: The man, who hasn’t been identified, is an alleged white supremacist, apparently rallying on the side of the KKK. He is wearing a National Socialist Movement t-shirt with a swastika on it as LeRoy helps him into the shade.
The photo was snapped by the governor’s spokesman. In it, Smith is leading the man up the statehouse steps to be tended to by EMT — the protestor apparently was ailing from the heat.
LeRoy apparently didn’t care what the man was there for, what he may have been yelling at the protest, or what he believed. As a police officer, he said his duty was to help everyone “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.”
It’s an amazing lesson at a time when racial tensions in the U.S. are at a fever pitch. And Smith hopes that his simple act can serve as a lesson to others.
“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.”
[Photo Courtesy of Twitter]