COLUMBIA, S.C. – In a way, what happened outside Benedict College’s gates in the heart of downtown felt quite small. At its peak, the crowd covered less than 100 yards of the sidewalk. But the scene itself represented something much bigger: the fractured, divisive, sometimes ugly and often loud American political climate.
Protests erupted outside the 150-year-old historically black college where inside a school auditorium President Donald Trump spoke to a room filled with more political allies than students.
The event was billed as a keynote speech on bipartisan success in criminal justice reform, which the president tied to the booming economy he takes credit for and that he told his audience has helped black people more than ever before.
Benedict students, who the week prior pondered what questions they might ask the president once his surprise visit to the forum” was announced, were asked to stay in their dorms.
Seven students were allowed inside for the speech.
The requests for students and faculty to remain inside was a matter of security, school spokeswoman Kymm Hunter said. The school’s police worked in conjunction with the Secret Service to develop a security plan out of “safety concerns and threats of protests,” she said.
Classes were canceled, and students were served lunch inside their dorms from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
As Trump spoke, protesters marched in opposition while supporters stood with flags waving and hands clapping. The two groups met at the gates, a couple hundred people in all. And it was loud, so loud that it was hard to hear either side clearly.
As the protesters chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go,” a supporter blew her whistle with every syllable. Shouts of “No more years!” overlapped with “Four more years!”
Sometimes they responded to one another, like when one group yelled “Shut it down” and the other yelled back, “Build a wall.” It was discord – not dialogue.
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