CPD reflects on downtown riots three years later

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – It has been three years since the riots in Downtown Charleston that were sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Now, police are reflecting on changes that have come since then.

Charleston Police Department (CPD) officials say the riot on King Street three years ago was a surreal experience, but they say their department learned a lot from it.

CPD Lieutenant James Byrne was there the night civil unrest erupted in Downtown Charleston.

“It was definitely surreal to see the city take that turn,” Byrne said, “and to see the streets and the businesses that we love so much have that night.”

Byrne says those businesses and people who were on King Street that night were subjected to several dangerous situations.

“We had gunfire that night,” he said. “We had arsons. We had burglaries. There were a number of crimes that were being committed that night. We had bricks being thrown, rocks being thrown; sometimes at us, sometimes at businesses.”

Throughout the chaos, Byrne says protecting citizens was his department’s main priority.

“That was what we were trying to focus on was making sure that people were safe,” Byrne said. “The property damage and the looting and stuff like that always comes second to the safety of the citizens that we serve.”

One business that had their storefront destroyed during the riots was El Jefe Texican Cantina.

“We lost the front of our store,” El Jefe Texican Cantina owner Roy Neal said. “We lost almost every one of our windows.”

Neal says despite his establishment being severely damaged, he was more moved by the response the following morning from what he calls “the heart of Charleston.”

“People were sweeping up our floors,” he said. “They were sweeping up the broken glass. There was people out here trying to hang wood on our windows. It was just an incredible response from the community, saying, ‘What happened last night is not Charleston.’”

Police officials say they’ve learned many lessons and made several changes since the riots three years ago.

“The biggest takeaway for us was really communication between the police and the city and the businesses and the residents that we serve,” Byrne said. “Of course we’ve changed some of our equipment, we’ve changed some of our training, we’ve changed the way that we deploy and staff for certain things, but the biggest thing that we’ve changed has been our communication.”

Because of that enhanced communication, CPD officials say their relationship with businesses is stronger than ever before.