The black police officer captured assisting a Ku Klux Klan supporter in a photo taken at a rally in Columbia, South Carolina, on July 18 says he was surprised the picture has gone viral, but he is hopeful it will have a positive impact.
Leroy Smith of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety said on July 20 he hopes the image of him will serve as “a catalyst” against the nation’s recent displays of violence.
“I consider myself like every other officer who was out there braving the heat on Saturday to preserve and protect,” Smith said.
The photo taken at a KKK rally outside South Carolina’s Statehouse shows Smith helping an unidentified man wearing racist T-shirt up a set of stairs. According to a statement by the SCDPS, Smith had been asked to assist two KKK supports “who appeared to be suffering from heat-related illnesses,” RT reported.
Reports say Smith and another black official were leading the man to the top of the Statehouse steps so emergency workers could treat him in the shade. The hand of the second black official, Aubrey Jenkins, the Columbia Fire Department chief, can be seen in the left of the photo.
The picture taken by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey, has now been retweeted more than 5,000 times, according to RT.
Smith said in a statement that the photo shows “who we are in South Carolina” and represents that law enforcement is helping people “regardless of the person’s skin color, nationality or beliefs,” The Guardian reported.
“Our men and women in uniform are on the front lines every day helping people — regardless of the person’s skin color, nationality or beliefs,” Smith said.
“As law enforcement officers, service is the heart of what we do,” he said.
Over the weekend, members of the New Black Panther Party and KKK gathered to attend two separate rallies for and against the Confederate flag, RT reported. According to the department of public safety, the crowd including both groups was estimated to peak at about 2,000 people.
Officers from six law enforcement agencies as well as the department of public safety were present for the day’s events, The Guardian reported. Five arrests were made for disorderly conduct, assault and breach of the peace.