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Cooper Authorizes National Guard After Protests Turn Violent In North Carolina

Jesse Steinmetz
Protesters gather outside of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police headquarters Saturday night.

The governors of the Carolinas are calling for peaceful protests after rallies over police brutality and racism in both states turned violent in recent days.

Credit N.C. Department of Public Safety
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper calls for peaceful protests after several rallies turned into riots across the state on Friday and Saturday.

Protests began in cities across the country following the killing of George Floyd on Monday by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for several minutes.

"Unfortunately, today, the headlines are not about those protesters and their calls for meaningful change," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Sunday. "They were more about riots and tear gas and broken windows and stolen property. That's wrong and must be stopped, but I fear the cry of the people is being drowned out by the noise of the riots."

Cooper said Sunday that he's authorized 450 National Guard soldiers, saying "violence and destruction is unacceptable."

"Our National Guardsmen are available upon requests of local governments, and I believe right now we have requests from Charlotte and from Raleigh for assistance," Cooper said. "Some of these guardsmen are trained in how to protect public structures, and that is how they will be used."

Despite that, the city of Charlotte tweeted Sunday that there were "no plans at this time" to send members of the National Guard to local protests. 

Initially peaceful protests in Charlotte turned violent both Friday and Saturday. Both nights ended in arrests, property damage and volleys of tear gas fired by police. In Raleigh, a protest of more than 1,000 people Saturday became violent, too, in what the city's police chief described as "anarchy." Officers there reportedly fired bullets and pepper spray at protesters and journalists.  

Protests also turned destructive in Fayetteville and Greensboro.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said National Guard troops are on alert after violent protests in Charleston and Columbia on Saturday night.

Columbia was under a curfew over the weekend after protests that started peacefully turned violent. In Columbia, protesters threw rocks and two police cars were set on fire. McMaster said Sunday he welcomes peaceful protests but will not tolerate violence

"I say to any of those who would do damage to our people, who would hurt the cause, who would destroy property, who would incite fear and violence, the law enforcement establishment of South Carolina will deal very sternly with you very quickly, very sternly,” he said.

McMaster said the National Guard will be available to law enforcement agencies in South Carolina who need assistance. The governor said he wasn't sure if he'd call for a statewide curfew.

Credit S.C. ETV
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, right, and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster call for peaceful protests instead of riots on Sunday.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., joined McMaster Sunday and said there was a place for nonviolent protests.

"For those who are agitators, for those who believe that violence is a way to take advantage of the situation: That is selfishness, and we as a state cannot tolerate that," Scott said. "It distracts from the very important issues of this day."

Both governors decried Floyd's death.

"We've made some progress, but when you see George Floyd on the ground begging for air, you realize that we have so much more work to do," Cooper said. "For people of color, these are not just cable news headlines, though. They are life and death warnings. They are stark instructions from parents to children about how to stay safe in their own communities and how to stay safe during encounters with law enforcement.

"They are heartbreaking memorials for people who should not be dead. George Floyd should be alive along with many others. All of us should have done more to protect them."

South Carolina was the site of the 2015 fatal shooting of Walter Scott by police officer Michael Slagler, who was later sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for second-degree murder – something that was mentioned Sunday by Sen. Scott.

That shooting came a few months after one of the most high-profile cases of racial violence in recent American history – the massacre of nine African Americans inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by a white man.

There were protests and riots over police brutality in Charlotte in 2016, too, after the killing of Keith Lamont Scott by CMPD.

Floyd's death came after two other high-profile killings of African Americans: the shooting of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville, Kentucky, as she slept and the shooting of Ahmaud Arbrey in Brunswick, Georgia.