NEWS

Black officer photographed helping Klan supporter

07/20/2015 06:35 EDT | Updated 07/20/2016 05:59 EDT
As the Ku Klux Klan rallied outside the South Carolina statehouse Saturday, the state's director of public safety pulled a man with a swastika on his shirt out of the hot afternoon sun. 

Leroy Smith guided the man up a flight of stairs and into some shade while the Loyal White Knights of the KKK protested the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Columbia, S.C. statehouse. The temperature on July 18 reached as high as 37 C.

The unidentified protester wore the insignia of the National Socialist Movement Party, one of the largest Neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre.

Rob Godfrey, the deputy chief of staff for Governor Nikki Haley, snapped and shared a photo on Twitter, calling the scene "not an uncommon example of humanity" in South Carolina. The photo quickly went viral and was retweeted by approximately 5,500 people. 

People reacted to the kindness reflected in the photo, with some mentioning that they would not have done the same. 

One tweeter was reminded of a 1983 photo from Austin, Texas, in which a black policeman defended a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Many argued Smith's professionalism is what made the photo great.

"I consider myself like every other officer who was out there braving the heat on Saturday to preserve and protect," Smith said in a statement. "The photo that was captured just happened to be of me."

The state's director of public safety manages its highway patrol, immigration enforcement and state police. Smith has held the post since 2011, and was a member of Florida's highway patrol for 22 years prior. 

The rally wasn't entirely filled with picture perfect moments, however. 

The Washington Post reported that officers intervened after a man wearing a Confederate flag on his vest was punched in the head, and that Klan supporters hurled racial slurs at members of the New Black Panther Party, who ran an opposing rally. The report also mentioned that a group attempted to set the flag alight before police stopped them. 

Two thousand people were in the crowd, five men were arrested and no police officers were injured according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety. Emergency services transported seven people away from the scene. 

The Confederate flag was removed from the statehouse grounds on July 10, following the killing of nine worshipers inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

The suspected gunman, Dylann Roof, was photographed prior to the incident posing with the Confederate flag.

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