Sheriff: Pause South Carolina protests after violence

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — More than 110 people were arrested over the weekend in South Carolina and several businesses and other property damaged in Columbia and Charleston as a small group of people broke away from peaceful protests in several cities across the state.

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As people cleaned up for the damage, officials warily planned in case the problems would extend for a third night. More protests and rallies over racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air while in handcuffs as a white officer in Minnesota pressed a knee into his neck last week.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott asked organizers of daily peaceful protests at the Statehouse to reconsider their frequency, at least for a little while.

“It is getting sabotaged and hijacked. You're not helping anybody’s cause whatsoever. Maybe we need to cool it a little bit and see if we can come up with something else," Lott said Monday.

Law enforcement also started culling through hundreds if not thousands of videos made by reporters, posted on social media and sent to them of the protests, looking to find people who attacked police officers or other people, shattered windows or stole from stores.

“Everybody who threw a rock everybody who burned a car, stole something — vandalism — everybody is going to be held accountable. Nobody is getting a free ride," Lott said.

Protesters came to the Statehouse again Monday, laying on the ground to protest Floyd's death. Dozens stayed behind after organizers asked them to go home, holding up signs at traffic passing by.

Lott sent Richland County deputies to Columbia to help with violent protests both Saturday and Sunday that followed peaceful gatherings at the Statehouse. More than 50 people were arrested. Several rounds of tear gas and rubber bullet were fired both days and a curfew was issued. Two shooting were reported with no injuries. Twelve police officers were hurt with most of the injuries minor, authorities said.

Several businesses and restaurants in downtown Columbia were damaged. It was a similar scene in downtown Charleston with property damage and shattered glass after Saturday and Sunday disturbances.

Like Columbia, officials in Charleston cracked down on protests more Sunday. Charleston reported seven arrests Saturday and 35 Sunday while taking a harder line.

“We started out with the intention of arresting people who violated the law. That didn’t happen last night and I think that sent the wrong message," Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said Sunday.

Police in Columbia closed one of the city's malls over the weekend and used police cars to block entrances. Thirty people tried to break into a Target store in the suburbs but were scattered before getting inside, authorities said. Windows were also broken in a mall in Orangeburg.

In Myrtle Beach, police officers including Chief Amy Prock joined marchers. But when they returned to the police station, several people blocked a driveway and were arrested. More were charged with breaking curfew. A total of 23 people faced charges.

Greenville's large protests Saturday and Sunday stayed mostly peaceful, although Sunday's demonstration ended around 10 p.m. some six hours after it started with tear gas and arrests. Authorities have not said how many people were arrested.

Peaceful protests also happened in Aiken, Beaufort, Bluffton, Greenwood, Lancaster, Rock Hill, Spartanburg and Sumter.

Demonstrations and rallies are heading to smaller places too. Chester planned a unity rally Monday night, held jointly by the black mayor of the city and the white sheriff of surrounding Chester County.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Sunday he has no plans for a statewide curfew or to send the National Guard to any cities, but that could change if events escalate.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.