On Saturday morning, about 1,000 residents of all ages and races gathered in Rock Hill’s Fountain Park to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of four police officers in Minneapolis, Minn.
Floyd’s death sparked protests in cities across the U.S. over the past week, calling for racial justice and an end to what protesters say is a history of police abuse and mistreatment of black citizens.
While some protests have turned violent, including one in Charlotte Friday afternoon, the Rock Hill march was one conceived in peace as a way to bring attention to the plight of black communities.
Rev. C.T. Kirk is the pastor at the Sanctuary of Life Outreach Center. He was also the event’s main organizer. He told the crowd before the march to be mindful of Rock Hill’s reputation as a city where race relations are dealt with peacefully.
“Don’t let them know Rock Hill like they know Minneapolis” Rev. Kirk said. “Don’t let it be a killing that brings attention to Rock Hill, South Carolina.”
Tynetta Moore a, co-organizer for Saturday’s protest, explained further.
“So far we have a very good relationship,” she said of the police and the community in the city. “What we’re saying today is that we want to keep that good community relationship.”
Moore says the city’s police department has “some amazing cops,” but that it’s important to not rely on just a few key established relationships as the historically racially mixed city grows along with the rest of the Charlotte metro.
“We just need to make sure that everybody has that relationship,” she said. “Many of the officers that are hired on
for the Rock Hill police force may not come from this area. And we want them to know that we’re here, we want to be heard, we want to be respected, we want to respect them, and it’s all love.”
It’s also a matter of changing some of the ways things have worked in the city. Part of the reason for the march was to demand that city leaders introduce a citizens review board, a system that allows civilian representatives to investigate allegations of police misconduct.
Rev. Kirk called for a citizens review board before the march. By the time it wrapped up, he was able to tell the crowd that City Councilwoman Nikita Jackson will be sponsoring the official effort to create one.
“I’m going to take it back before the rest of the council and I’ll get it put on the agenda to see if that’s something we would like to have,” Jackson said after the march. She said she wants to be “proactive as opposed to being reactive” in developing a board.
A report by the U.S. Department of Justice outlines four types of oversight a citizens review board can follow. As Jackson and city officials develop ideals for a citizens’ review board, they need to consider whether it will be the type to investigate allegations of misconduct, review findings of an incident, recommend actions, or investigate the process by which police agencies investigate complaints.
Jackson says she will dive into the research to make sure the plan is solid, before anything is introduced officially.
“I’m going to do my due diligence before bringing it back to council just to make sure we’re doing it right, and so that we can have something positive in place and not just throw something together,” she said.
Rock Hill spokeswoman Katie Quinn says the city has no official response to Saturday’s event so far.
But with the event having ended peacefully, organizers and marchers say they want it to be an example of how to make a stand, how to have a good relationship between police and citizens, and how to be respectful. City resident Janice Welch, who grew up in the 60s and attended her first protest just Saturday, says that’s key.
“Rock Hill’s pretty good. We don’t have this problem,” she said. “So far. But I just feel like we need to show support for what’s going on."
Welch says she understands the frustrations in Minneapolis and Louisville, where protests have involved violence, property damage, police firing rubber bullets and even a National Guard presence. But she says it saddens her to see how those communities are handling the problems.
“I hate the way they’re turning out," she said. "I hope we show them how to do it. Walk, protest, support. It’s mainly support. Everybody should their support, but they should be doing it in a peaceful manner."
Scott Morgan is the Upstate Multimedia Reporter for South Carolina Public Radio. Follow Scott on Twitter @ByScottMorgan.