On Saturday, members of the Ku Klux Klan gathered in Columbia, South Carolina, the state’s capital, to protest the recent decision to take down the Confederate flag that had flown over the State House.
South Carolina Public Safety estimated that, between Klan members and counter-protesters, almost 2,000 people were at the demonstration.
With hot tempers and hotter temperatures, violence broke out.
Violence has broken out at the KKK rally on the state grounds #ColumbiaSC pic.twitter.com/YbcRnyNZjw
— Bart Boatwright (@bartboat) July 18, 2015
But amid the tensions, a single act of selflessness — a black officer helping a white supremacist suffering from heat exhaustion — got noticed.
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
The officer was identified as South Carolina Director of Public Safety Leroy Smith, a 22-year law enforcement veteran who joined the SCDPS as Director in 2011.
People on social media lauded Smith’s ability to do his job in difficult circumstances.
@RobGodfrey What this officer did is infinitely more powerful than anything wrought of hatred. A short life, let love win. #ElAmorGana
— Aaron Schurg (@ThirdCoastCoder) July 20, 2015
.@RobGodfrey @robgreeneII This is why smart folk say, "I haven't the energy to hate."
— Bijan C. Bayne (@bijancbayne) July 18, 2015
@bijancbayne @RobGodfrey @robgreeneII This kindness chokes me up. How do SC people find that well of caring in the midst of so much hatred?
— Elizabeth (@ElizabethQuaker) July 19, 2015
Monday morning, Smith released a statement, saying he was surprised the photo had gone viral, and that as the agency’s director, his job is to “preserve and protect,” just like every other officer.
“Our men and women in uniform are on the front lines every day helping people—regardless of the person’s skin color, nationality, or beliefs,” Smith continued in the statement.
“I am proud to serve this great State, and I hope this photo will be a catalyst for people to work to overcome some of the hatred and violence we have seen in our country in recent weeks.”
(Photos via Getty, AP, SCDPS Facebook)