GREENVILLE, S.C. – A letter on the Greenville Mayor’s desk Monday morning claimed discrimination with how the city handles free speech picketers.
The South Carolina Secessionist Party – a “pro-heritage group” – hoisted up confederate flags outside the well during March Madness in Greenville, hoping to turn around public opinion about the flag that day. It is a symbol of the very thing that kept NCAA tournaments out of South Carolina for 15 years, until removed from Statehouse grounds in 2015.
Party Chairman, James Bessenger, says Greenville Police quickly broke up their display, citing ordinance violations.
“They pounced on us like Tigger,” said Bessenger. “We had set up our display not 10 minutes before they showed up.”
The city of Greenville’s picketing ordinance says flags can’t be on poles longer than 42 inches long, must be 1 inch around and can’t be metal, all in the interest of public safety.
Now, in the letter to Mayor White, Bessenger says they aren’t happy after similar flag displays were up at this weekend’s pride event, but weren’t asked to come down.
“We don’t feel the police should have done anything to them, but we don’t feel they should have done anything to us either,” he said. “It seems to us like we were targeted.”
Greenville Police Captain Joe Browning said, while the ordinance is clear, they often are responding once a complaint is lodged. They didn’t enforce the law at “Pride” and agree this is a learning experience for their department.
“Certainly we are in a time in our country where we are having more free speech activities that we ever have, so it’s one of those things that our officers need to be more versed in than we are and it’s something we can improve at,” said Browning, adding it’s both about safety and equal treatment. “It’s not over any particular issue and we need to make sure that we are consistent. That’s what it comes down to.”
The South Carolina Secessionist Party says they are not actually politically motivated. They ultimately hope to have a sit down with Mayor White.