Charleston Business Owners Face Violence Following George Floyd Protests

May 31, 2020

Sweet Belgium, one of several businesses damaged during looting Saturday night on King Street in downtown Charleston

Ken Schneider looks out from his wine bar on King Street in downtown Charleston in disbelief. 

The city that displayed a wealth of grace in the aftermath of the massacre at Mother Emanuel and the shooting death of Walter Scott somehow succumbed Saturday night to the violence erupting nationwide following yet another senseless death, this time thousands of miles away in Minnesota.

“The mob just started breaking all the windows,” he says.  “Over the next 90 minutes we had roaming gangs of anywhere from eight to 12 people come in.”

The Violence

Terrified customers fled, as looters trashed his business, stole wine and set fire to the back.

Schneider’s son says he heard gunfire up the street, just moments before coming face to face with an angry mob against the glass.

“That’s when the first brick goes through the window and I dodged it,” he says. 

“It was scary.  I mean the whole staff was shaken.”

The chaos played out live on local television and on social media. 

Police in tactical gear clashed with protesters.  One officer is seen being attacked on the ground before he manages to escape.  Then, there are images of people fleeing and screaming as shots are fired outside Halls Chophouse.

Businesses board up along King Street, some because of damage and others to protect themselves for the possibility of more looting

The restaurant's owner issued a statement.  "The violence that occurred tonight on King Street does not reflect the community I call home.  Charleston is a city that has gracefully weathered the toughest of storms."

The Protests

As businesses boarded up Sunday, some from damage and others in self-defense, pockets of protesters continued to chant and carry signs across the city keenly aware the violence of the previous night marred their message.

“They’re worried because of what happened last night,” says Olivia McGougan. 

Protesters take to the streets at Marion Square in Charleston to express outrage over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota
Credit Matt Hansen

She and a group were peacefully protesting at White Point Garden Sunday morning when they were abruptly broken up by police and told their permit had expired.

“So, they’re worried peacefully walking with signs is going to destroy their monuments?”

The Confederate Defenders statue at the park was spray painted Saturday as protesters marched along The Battery before eventually making their way north toward I-26 where they shut down part of the interstate.

“People are mad,” says protester Sully Sullivan.  “People are upset.  They want change.”

Sullivan, like so many across the nation, is outraged by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  The 46 year-old lost his life as an officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck long after the handcuffed man’s body went limp.

Protester at The Battery in Charleston

Sullivan says it’s time for white Americans to dig deep and help people who don’t look like themselves.

His sign reads, “It’s not enough to be quietly non-racist.  Now is the time to be vocally anti-racist.”

The protesters in the streets of Charleston have been primarily young, black, white, men and women.

Getting Back to Business, Again

“People should be angry over what happened in Minnesota and protesting is okay,” says State Representative Nancy Mace.  “But rioting and destroying businesses is not okay.”

Mace is helping board up Halls Chophouse along with others who gathered on King Street Sunday, some with brooms and dust pans to clean up the mess.  

Businesses boarded up on King Street in Charleston
Credit Matt Hansen

Businesses owners who had finally begun to re-open downtown after being shuttered by the coronavirus feel like they’ve been kicked again.  Ken Schneider estimates his wine bar has sustained more than $100,000 in damage.

“This morning I was very emotional, a little so now thinking about the generosity,” says Schneider.

The protective mask he's wearing can't hide the tears.

“There were a thousand people on the street this morning just willing to help out and do whatever they could.”

He says a tractor trailer full of lumber was donated along with contractors willing to working for free. 

The smell of plywood  is thick as slab after slab covers windows along King Street.  It looks eerily familiar yet strange; more like preparations for a hurricane than another night of rioting.