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Sumter Walmart closes amid riot rumors as protesters try to separate themselves

BY KAYLA GREEN
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 6/3/20

No arrests were made after the third day in a row of protests outside the Sumter Police Department in response to the death of George Floyd.

Monday featured much of the same as Sunday, with a group of six to eight women organizing a peaceful …

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Sumter Walmart closes amid riot rumors as protesters try to separate themselves

Posted

No arrests were made after the third day in a row of protests outside the Sumter Police Department in response to the death of George Floyd.

Monday featured much of the same as Sunday, with a group of six to eight women organizing a peaceful protest in front of the public safety headquarters on North Lafayette Drive. Monday's group featured more children.

It also marked the second day that demonstrators were given a police escort to march around downtown, holding and calling out chants such as "I can't breathe" and "No justice, no peace."

The protests are in response to Floyd's death on May 25 that was caught on bystanders' video. In footage, the black man can be seen pleading for air as a white police officer, who was charged days later with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

Sumter's protests on Saturday, Sunday and Monday were largely a peaceful demonstration of participants' grief over the death and their call to end police brutality against black Americans in a national setting that has seen gatherings turn violent on both sides in varying degrees by city, including looting, arrests and a strong show of police force such as firing rubber bullets and tear gas and attacks on clearly marked journalists.

Some violence has been started by small groups of otherwise peaceful demonstrators, as was almost the case on Sunday and Monday. However, Sumter's police did not make any arrests as of Tuesday afternoon after two days of heated verbal escalation.

The women organizing the protests planned to be out there again on Tuesday evening and said they don't approve of the group leaning toward confrontation.

"There's a lot of emotions. Everyone mourns differently," said Crystal Bryan, one of organizers. "I understand where they're coming from, but we've got to stay peaceful to be taken seriously."

Riot rumors shutter Walmart

As they demonstrated at the police department Monday evening, the Walmart on Broad Street had already closed at 5:30 p.m. in response to rumors on social media of a riot planned for the mega-store.

The store had been limiting hours to 8:30 p.m. in response to the pandemic caused by COVID-19,

Vehicles, both marked and unmarked, from Sumter Police Department, S.C. Highway Patrol, S.C. Law Enforcement Division and other agencies were heavily scattered around the building as the doors remained shut and employees gathered at the window.

People sat intermittently in their vehicles in the parking as other people could be seen sitting on their tailgates filling the end of the Dollar Tree parking lot, which overlooks the Walmart parking lot.

Law enforcement agencies in Sumter have said in previous situations they must take social media threats seriously, such as Snapchats predicting school shootings. For this, too, they must take any threat of violence seriously.

Vacant sheriff's office substation, vehicle fire being investigated

Three fires were dispatched within 12 minutes of each other on Monday, though none have been associated with the protests.

The Sumter County Sheriff's Office is conducting an arson investigation after a former agency substation on Manning Avenue was damaged.

According to a report from the Sumter Fire Department, fire was visible on the outside of the structure when units arrived at 10:30 p.m. The report said the fire was extinguished "very quickly." The fire caused an estimated $5,000 in damage to the structure.

Deputy Adrienne Sarvis, public information officer with the sheriff's office, said the substation was vacant and that the blaze has not been determined to be related to recent protests.

Five minutes after the substation call went out, firefighters received a call about smoldering shrubbery on North Guignard Drive. According to a report, they extinguished the fire and went back into service.

A third call came in at 10:39 p.m. about a vehicle fire at Sykes behind the Sumter Mall. A report said "it was found to appear that the car may have been set on fire" and that the city fire and police departments are investigating, but fire officials said there's no indication yet it was connected to the protests or other calls