Mayor Benjamin meets virtually with protest organizers to discuss concerns on fourth day of demonstrations

Mayor Benjamin meets virtually with protest organizers to discuss concerns

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Mayor Steve Benjamin met virtually with some protest organizers to discuss law enforcement policies in Columbia and how to move forward.

Tuesday’s meeting came as protesters gathered at the State House for a fourth day, joining in with thousands of others around the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The protests were unplanned and peaceful on Tuesday.

Monday, the mayor sat with those protesters at the State House and discussed the changes they wanted to see take place. He followed up on that conversation with a two-hour Zoom call Tuesday.

Both Benjamin and the protesters said the call was positive and was the beginning of an ongoing conversation about law enforcement accountability and transparency in Columbia.

Benjamin stressed he wanted the call to be about healing, and addressing some of the issues that protesters have.

“I feel very good that while we are not Minneapolis, or New York, or Oakland, or Charlotte, we recognize that this is our corner of the world God has given us and this is our collective responsibility from everyone -- from business people being involved, educators, retired military -- how we meet together as a community to move Columbia forward,” Benjamin said. “It was very hopeful and there was a consensus that we need a comprehensive approach for how we move forward and make these steps.”

Protesters provided a list of measures they would like to see Benjamin take, and the mayor said they went through the list during the call.

One of those measures is a police accountability policy that would require law enforcement to report use-of-force cases to a state database that would include the race of both the victim and the officer.

Protesters also said they would like public notification from police agencies when any use of force results in death.

They also said they would like greater accountability of officers, calling for an independent investigation into each incident of use of force by law enforcement resulting in someone’s death.

“They gave me a list of issues that were very important to them, and I’m going to give them a written response to all of those issues and then share some information like I did today over what the department is already doing,” Benjamin said. “We have really sound and solid leadership at the police department, but you only really show that to people through constant action and communication. And I promised that we would keep the conversation moving forward.”

The mayor said he did discuss the measures already in place in Columbia for accountability and transparency -- including extensive training officers go through examining bias and cultural sensitivity, the 2014 Justice for All Plan that Benjamin implemented to increase the data that is shared, and efforts to recruit a more diverse law enforcement.

“Some of these challenges our country has been dealing with for hundreds of years,” Benjamin said. “It was very thoughtful, very smart, intentional conversation and we promised to meet again over the next couple of days.”

The Columbia Police Department and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department were not on the call Tuesday. Protesters said the mayor is organizing additional calls in the coming days and weeks and they expect law enforcement to be involved in future calls.

Both the mayor and protesters stressed that there’s still a lot of ground to cover, but Tuesday’s meeting was the beginning of a frank and productive conversation and a positive step forward.

Copyright 2020 WIS. All rights reserved.