The day after a white man was arrested and charged with assaulting a Black man walking through Northeast Columbia’s Summit neighborhood, protesters gathered in downtown to say they don’t believe the charge is severe enough.
About a dozen protesters marched from the S.C. State House up Main Street to the solicitor’s office in the Richland County Judicial Center on Thursday, calling for U.S. Army soldier Jonathan Pentland’s third-degree assault and battery charge to be upgraded to kidnapping. They also want federal prosecutors to bring a hate crime charge against Pentland.
Sonya Lewis with One Common Cause Columbia helped organize Thursday’s protest march, hoping to keep up the pressure on officials to take the incident seriously and bring the toughest charges they can in the case.
“If you watch the video, (Pentland) impeded his progress,” Lewis said. “He made multiple attempts to pass him that were impeded. (Pentland) tried to force him to go somewhere he did not want to go, and threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t go. So under that premise, it’s kidnapping.”
The charge was brought against Pentland, a soldier at Fort Jackson, after a video went viral on social media. The video shows a man who police said is Pentland demanding a Black man walking in the street tell him if he lives in the neighborhood, and if not to leave. He shoves the man at one point, and threatens to “carry” him out of the neighborhood if he doesn’t leave.
Lewis was one of several protesters who gathered in the Summit on Wednesday, protesting outside the sergeant’s house and calling for police to charge him. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced charges against Pentland later on Wednesday.
Richland County sheriff’s deputies had to relocate the family from the home after it was vandalized, with at least one window and a porch light being broken.
Protesters rallied in front of the State House Thursday afternoon, drawing honks from passing cars on Gervais Street, then marched up the steps before heading the six blocks to the courthouse.
Jerome Bowers, who led the marchers with chants on his bullhorn, said the attitude displayed in the video could be turned against anyone who he felt didn’t belong in the neighborhood.
“You don’t have to say (the n-word) to mean it,” Bowers said. “He called him a (n-word) with his actions, by telling him ‘you don’t belong here.’”
Although the S.C. House of Representatives passed a hate crime bill earlier this month, there isn’t one on the books for Pentland to be charged with now. So protesters are calling on federal prosecutors, who are already said to be investigating the incident, to bring their own hate crime charge.
“Since South Carolina doesn’t care enough about its brown people to have a hate crimes law, we’re asking you to upgrade this to a federal charge,” Lewis said, addressing Solicitor Byron Gipson through a bullhorn outside the judicial center.
Protesters stood in the doorway of the judicial center calling on Gipson to come out to talk to them for about 30 minutes, but did not get a response from inside.
The incident at the Summit is already garnering national attention, coming as it does the same week a former Minneapolis police officer is on trial in the killing of George Floyd last year. The case also bears similarities to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while jogging in his Georgia neighborhood by white men who said they believed he was a burglar.
Lewis said she had reached out to the family of the young man in the video, and felt a personal connection to the case.
“I have a grandson that same age,” she said. “That could be my grandson, so this is personal to me.”
The protesters ultimately dispersed on Thursday without getting the response they wanted from prosecutors, but said they planned more protests in the coming days.
After being booked at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on the assault charge, Pentland was released on a $2,125 personal recognizance bond, court records show. A condition of his release is an order to avoid all contact with the victim, and Pentland must stay 1,000 yards from the victim’s place of work, home, school or worship, according to court records.
If convicted on the misdemeanor assault charge, Pentland could face a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, according to South Carolina law.
Officials at Fort Jackson said the U.S. Army has begun its own investigation into the incident. Pentland could face other disciplinary action within the Army over the video, which “is not consistent with our Army values and will not be condoned,” Fort Jackson officials said after the video garnered social media attention.