Sen. Lindsey Graham visits Aiken to talk Black Lives Matter, Meriwether monument

Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 5:06 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Sen. Lindsey Graham visited Aiken on Monday to talk police reform and racial injustice. He’s also calling for big changes with a controversial monument in North Augusta.

With loud calls for change still echoing from the streets, behind closed doors, other voices are calling on Graham to carry the message to Washington.

“Black Lives Matter, so when I say that, it’s an acknowledgment of the issues that we are talking about here -- policing regarding communities of color,” Graham said.

Graham sees policing in Aiken County as a good example -- departments pushing transparency and community relationships. He sees reform coming through a few achievable solutions: eliminating police chokeholds, making it easier to fire bad cops, and hiring more people of color.

"The biggest change of all is to try to recruit in the community itself police officers from the community," Graham said.

Fellow South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is offering up a bill covering each of those points.

The Aiken Department of Public Safety says they were asked for their ideas.

But Graham says changes need to come to qualified immunity, too, which protects police and public officials from lawsuits involving misconduct.

"It will reinforce best business practices when it comes to policing because it will be easier to be sued," Graham said.

The senator is also asking leaders in North Augusta to make changes to the Meriwether monument.

"I don't see why we want to memorialize that in 2020, so I'm hoping that the community can wrestle that," Graham said.

But for some meeting with the senator, the talk of change can not stay here.

“We as South Carolinians need to hear him make these statements from the White House and represent us all as a people there,” Paul Bush with the Concerned Ministers Fellowship said.

Graham says he plans to vote on Scott’s bill Wednesday. Chief Charles Barranco of Aiken DPS says he’s thankful his department can be an example for others to follow.

Graham also mentioned South Carolina’s increase of COVID-19 cases. He says if it gets worse, shutting down the economy again is not an option. He says they may just have to modify reopening.

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