Black state trooper Leroy Smith was present in Columbia, S.C. when the Confederate rebel flag was removed from the state display to quell tensions between groups who both opposed and supported the change.
While on the job, Smith was captured in a now-viral photograph helping an older White man wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a Swastika get to some cool shelter after he became fatigued from the sweltering heat. Now, he’s explaining why he put aside their differences to help someone in need.
“He looked fatigued, lethargic — weak,” say Smith of the unidentified man, who was clad in a white supremacist T-shirt. “I knew there was something very wrong with him.”
Smith remarked on the overall atmosphere of the groups gathered to express their disapproval over the absence of the Confederate flag. At the same time, the Black Panthers and Black Educators for Justice were also in attendance to denounce White supremacy.
He recalled, “You could kind of feel the tension in the air.”
But Smith, who admitted to feeling emotional at the removal of the flag, knew there was a job to be done. The two men didn’t discuss much during the incident, except a few words of encouragement offered by Smith to help the man get up the steps into the State Capitol building and into the air conditioning, the Times writes. But Smith’s reasoning for helping the older man was a reminder of the importance of compassion in a time of turmoil in this country.
He answered with one thing that’s supposed to heal the world, love. “I think that’s the greatest thing in the world — love,” said Smith.