COLUMBIA, S.C. – As supporters of the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan clashed at the South Carolina Capitol, a photo from the scene is generating positive reaction.
The image shows a black officer assisting a man in a National Socialist Movement T-shirt up the statehouse stairs. The photo spread through social media after Rob Godfrey, deputy chief of staff to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, took the photo and shared it on Twitter with the caption, “not an uncommon example of humanity in SC.”
White supremacists were protesting the recent removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina State House grounds. The New Black Panther Party held a rally there as well. South Carolina’s Department of Public Safety estimated 2,000 people attended the events and said five were arrested.
The officer in the photo is Public Safety Director Leroy Smith, Godfrey and a department spokeswoman said.
“He was assisting with crowd control on the stairs where the KKK was rallying,” spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli said.
Smith was helping the man find shelter and water as temperatures soared into the high 90s.
“He had observed that the person appeared to be feeling ill from the heat and needed assistance,” Iacobelli said. “He was helping get him up the stairs the statehouse so that he could receive emergency medical care.”
Many praised the officer for his professionalism.
As one person said: “He is a professional and did what he was trained to do. Color has nothing to do with his job. White dude will never forget it.”
Smith told The New York Times, that he was surprised by the worldwide attention the photo received.
“I think that’s the greatest thing in the world — love,” said the trooper. “And that’s why so many people were moved by it.”