*UPDATE* 7/21 1:20pm
The black director of South Carolina’s public safety agency said on Monday he was surprised a photo showing him helping a white man wearing a swastika t-shirt had gone viral. But he is hoping it will be a catalyst for people to work toward overcoming hatred and violence.
Leroy Smith said in a statement that the photo, taken by Governor Nikki Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey at a Ku Klux Klan rally, captured “who we are in South Carolina” and represents what law enforcement is all about: helping people “regardless of the person’s skin color, nationality or beliefs.”
“I consider myself like every other officer who was out there braving the heat on Saturday to preserve and protect,” he said.
Tensions were high Saturday as members of the Ku Klux Klan and New Black Panther Party clashed at South Carolina’s Statehouse after the recent decision was made to remove the Confederate flag.
Thousands of people from opposing groups taunted each other and threw rocks at one another at one point, leading to five people being arrested and seven taken to hospitals.
But a powerful photograph captured by photographer Rob Godfrey shows that not everyone forewent their humanity that day.
The poignant photo shows a black police officer helping an elderly man, who is wearing a swastika t-shirt and is reportedly a member of the KKK group. According to Mic, South Carolina Director of Public Safety Leroy Smith was helping the man to safety amid intense southern heat that was around 95-97 degrees Fahrenheit.
not an uncommon example of humanity in SC: Leroy Smith helps white supremacist to shelter & water as heat bears down. pic.twitter.com/GoF23r3mRe
— Rob Godfrey (@RobGodfrey) July 18, 2015
Twitter users have shared some fairly strong reactions, ranging from praise to condemnation, as well as questions to whether Smith should have helped the elderly man at all.
— BIG BO$$ ROCK 106 (@YNGPfounder) July 18, 2015