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Black Officer Who Ushered White Supremacist To Safety Hopes We Can Overcome Hatred

07/20/2015 05:07 EDT | Updated 07/20/2015 05:59 EDT

A South Carolina officer was recognized around the world when he was photographed assisting a white supremacist at the Statehouse on Saturday.

But he insists he was just doing his job.

Leroy Smith, director of South Carolina's Department of Public Safety, was photographed helping a man wearing a t-shirt with a swastika obtain some water and shelter as protests took place there over the weekend.

The rallies, which drew supporters of both the Ku Klux Klan and Black Educators for Justice, came after the decision by state lawmakers to remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol grounds.

Amid the protests, Rob Godfrey, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's deputy chief of staff, caught this photo, which has been re-tweeted over 5,000 times.

The photo has also been reported on in publications such as The Guardian and The Daily Mail.

Social media users recognized Smith for helping the man.

In a statement issued Monday, Smith said that "service is at the heart of what we do."

"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," he said.

"I am proud to serve this great State, and I hope this photo will be a catalyst for people to work to overcome some of the hatred and violence we have seen in our country in recent weeks."

This isn't the first time that such a powerful image has helped people reflect upon race relations.

In 1992, photographer Todd Robertson captured a photo of a young boy in a KKK robe touching a black policeman's riot shield at a rally in Gainesville, Ga.

The photo would later be featured in a pamphlet on fighting hate by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Poynter reported.

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