Beaufort residents gather to call for justice after George Floyd dies at hands of police
By Mike McCombs
“Black lives matter.”
“Stop the violence.”
“Please, I can’t breathe.”
“With Liberty and Justice for all.”
“What if it was your brother?”
“What if it was your son?”
“Justice for Trey Pringle.”
“We need justice.”
“What if it was your own family?”
If you’ve driven past the intersection of Ribaut Road and Boundary Street the past few days, you’ve likely seen one or more of these signs.
Like much of the rest of the country over the past few days, some folks in Beaufort stood up to say enough is enough.
On Monday, May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis.
While he was handcuffed and face down on the ground, white police officer Derek Chauvin, kneeled on him, pressing his knee into his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd pleaded that he hurt and could not breathe, even asking for his mother. Three other police officers essentially stood and watched.
Eventually, Floyd stopped pleading, dying on the street.
By Tuesday, video of the incident, difficult to watch, was viral, and the four officers were fired.
And the protests began. In Minneapolis. And Louisville. And New York. And Los Angeles. And Nashville. And Atlanta. And everywhere, it seemed.
By Friday night, America was on fire.
At this point, Chauvin was arrested and charged with 3rd-degree murder. In the long run, experience tells me, that may be meaningless.
Here in Beaufort
What started Saturday with a handful of folks on the side of the street, by Sunday afternoon had progressed into 75 people on the side of the street, carrying signs and with the support of what easily seemed like the majority of passers by, who blew horns, yelled and pumped fists.
“It’s beautiful,” Garvin said of the Beaufort protest. “Just look at all the colors. It’s not just black folks. Everybody is out here.”
There were people – black, white and brown – standing — and sitting too – and waving and holding signs and pumping fists and yelling support. There was a stockpile of bottled water and snacks and posterboard and markers, all donated.
And the honking horns. Man, the honking horns.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling was there Sunday afternoon and had been most of the day. City Councilman Stephen Murray brought his whole family.
While the attitude among the crowd was almost jovial, have no doubt it was serious.
“We’re tired. We’re tired of this,” Wright said. “We’re out here, though, trying to be heard and bring about some change.”
When asked if he felt the results had been good, Garvin referred to the violence and looting going on in some other places.
“I think it’s been positive. I mean, you don’t see nothing broken, do you?” Garvin asked. “You don’t see nothing burning. Ain’t nothing on fire. It’s been positive. I can’t say it stays that way. But we’re not looking for it to go the other way, either.”
It’s an old story, really
No matter the exact reason why or one’s opinion on the subject, it should be clear by now that police killing black men – and women – is a running theme in American life. There have been dozens over the past decade. That we know of.
George Floyd’s story is no different.
It comes on the heels of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
Taylor was killed when Louisville police burst into the wrong house on a no-knock warrant, killing the sleeping woman. Arbery was chased down by two cop wannabes while jogging and shot and killed.
Kwajalean Pringle, also at the protest Sunday, unfortunately is all too familiar with another story. In February of 2018, her son Trey, 24, was killed after a confrontation with police. Pringle called 911 to help when her son was having a mental heatlth issue.
Instead, the call resulted in the death of her son. He was tased five times, suffered cardiac arrest and died three days later at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.
At best, Trey Pringle’s death was a tragedy. It’s clear that family and many others believe it was more.
Not surprisingly, Kwajalean Pringle was emotional Sunday.
“It brings back so many memories, like I’m reliving this stuff all over again. This one just, … oh my God … all of them do, but there’s something about this one. They way that they were on his neck. I can just picture my son, it’s just …,” Pringle tried to finish.
“I wasn’t going to come. But I had an emotional morning at work and I decided to come out anyway, just to show support. I wasn’t really prepared to say anything. But I just felt like I had to be here for my son and everyone else.”
Kwajalean Pringle simply expressed how so many black Americans say they feel, as well.
“We’re just tired. We’re just tired of our sons, uncles, brothers getting killed. I think we’re just fed up. Really tired. I know I am,” she said. “I’m just tired of hearing about them. Like I said, I’m reliving my son’s death all over again. It’s been two years, and it’s like I’m reliving it every day, all over again.”
She said it felt good to come, though. She had braved her emotions and fears to be supportive of friends and neighbors, and others in the same situation as her.
Still, she had hoped this experience might bring her more answers about the death of Trey Pringle. But did it?
“Honestly, no,” she said.
Kwajalean Pringle’s younger son, Nick, stood out Sunday in the crowd in front of the old Sgt. White’s Diner building. A basketball star at Whale Branch, Nick Pringle is on his way to Wofford to play basketball and get his education at the small Spartanburg college.
Like his mother, Nick Pringle said he was tired of black men dying over and over. But he was optimistic.
“We’re coming together as a community. Look at all these faces,” Nick Pringle said. “We’re just trying to bring everybody together. I’m not promising it will help. But we’re doing something positive.”
Staying the course
Whether or not the protest was going to continue into the work week, people just began to show up Monday.
Among them were City of Beaufort Police Officers. They weren’t there for crowd control, though.
Instead, in a “we’re all in this together” moment, they grilled for the protesters.
It might have been easier to doubt Garvin’s words on Sunday, but after Monday’s turnout, it seems like the crowd might be in it for the long haul.
“We going to be out here. Tomorrow, the next day. Next weekend. As long as it takes to get some sort of change. Oh, we’re going to be out here,” Garvin said. “They’re going to get tired of seeing us. They’re going to get tired of hearing horns blowing in the city. They’re going to get real tired. We’re going to be out here. We’re going to be out here.”
Top: At least 20 and as many as 75 people were gathered throughout Sunday at Ribaut Rd. and Boundary St. across from Beaufort City Hall and Beaufort Police Department to protest police brutality and injustice. The event was slated to begin about noon and go on all day, but some people began gathering as early as 9 a.m. Photo by Bob Sofaly.
Bottom: One of the event’s organizers, Tim Garvin. Photo by Jeff Evans