(STL.News) – United States Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr., announced today that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina is joining federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to preserve our citizens’ First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly while protecting our communities from violence and destruction.
In a recent statement, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr noted that federal law enforcement resources would be available to assist state and local leaders in their efforts to ensure peaceful protests and to reestablish law and order. Attorney General Barr said that federal resources will be directed at apprehending and charging the violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful demonstrations and engaged in violations of federal law.
U.S. Attorney McCoy explained his office has been working with the Governor of South Carolina, the South Carolina Attorney General, police chiefs, sheriffs, and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the events of the past weekend. According to U.S. Attorney McCoy, this joint federal, state, and local coordination is designed to use available federal assets to assist state and local partners in maintaining decorum and allowing people to peacefully assemble, while protecting against violence and destruction. Specifically, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is also working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) to identify criminal organizers and instigators. The FBI’s JTTFs are the nation’s front line of defense against terrorism, both international and domestic. Today there are about 200 task forces around the country, including one in the FBI’s Columbia field office.
“All Americans should enjoy the right, through the First Amendment, to peacefully assemble, express their concerns, and protest,” said U.S. Attorney McCoy. “The violence and destruction that escalated from peaceful gatherings this weekend, which we’ve seen across the country and in particular here in our State, are unacceptable. Once gatherings turn violent and destructive towards citizens, police officers, property, and businesses, a line has been crossed. We will continue to coordinate with our federal, state, and local partners to aggressively prosecute those who cross that line.”
“The FBI will continue to utilize all our resources to enforce federal law and ensure everyone’s Constitutional rights are protected,” said Jody Norris, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI.
State and local partners across the state joined U.S. Attorney McCoy and the FBI in their commitment to ensuring peaceful protests.
“Our priorities are to protect people’s lives and property, and we also want to protect the First Amendment rights of the peaceful protestors who want their voices heard,” said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. “For those people who are trying to hijack these protests to instigate violence and destruction, we’ll do everything in our power to hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
“We welcome the help of our federal partners in this effort,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. “We will not tolerate bad actors and agitators who keep trying to disrupt these protests. We’ve received dozens of videos and pictures of those who agitated the crowds this weekend. And we’re coming for them.”
“I love Columbia. It’s a privilege to be a police officer in Columbia, South Carolina,” said City of Columbia Police Department Chief W. H. “Skip” Holbrook. “Our officers assembled this weekend with the purpose of protecting those who chose to assemble peacefully in our city. Our sole purpose was to protect them and to make sure that they had a safe venue, a safe walk to the State Capitol to express their anger and position. That’s our job. What I witnessed Saturday during violent protests was a travesty. It hurt my heart. I’ve watched those same CPD officers who showed up to protect, sent to the hospital with serious injuries. We’ve had property damage, rocks and bottles thrown at us, damage to CPD Headquarters. It’s not who we are as a community. We are all better than that.”
“The horrible death of Mr. George Floyd is painful to us all,” said City of North Charleston Police Department Chief Reginald “Reggie” L. Burgess. “We all need to come together, to plan and work together, to effect lasting change. Being a proud African-American and a Chief of Police, I follow the advice of Fredrick Douglass who stated, ‘I will unite with anyone doing right and no one doing wrong!’”
“It is important to know that we have the support of our federal partners in times like these,” said Charleston Police Department Chief of Police Luther T. Reynolds. “With the help of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and other federal resources, we are able to achieve the goal of keeping the City of Charleston safe.”
“The horrific event in Minneapolis has, in no doubt, placed a dark cloud over law enforcement in America,” said Greenville County Sheriff Hobart Lewis. “While I am deeply saddened by the death of George Floyd, I am hopeful that we can use this incident to further advance dialogue between the community and law enforcement. Our community’s voice was heard loud and clear through the recent peaceful protests in Greenville, and I commend the way the majority of our community, both law enforcement and civilians, united together to express frustrations. Constructive dialogue is always welcome in Greenville but the destruction of property and violence will not be tolerated by our citizens and our law enforcement that live, work, and play in our great county.”