Deanna Bernstein of Summerville wanted to spend a night at the Coastal Carolina Fair eating the food and enjoying the rides and playing the games. Instead, she ended up in jail.
When Bernstein passed a vendor selling a T-shirt Wednesday with Confederate flags and the words “Confederately Correct Civil Rights for Southern Whites,” her stomach turned.
Bernstein said the T-shirt promotes racism. In fighting to have it removed, she was charged with trespassing.
“If people don’t like it, then complain, use your voice,” said Bernstein, 38, a California native who is white.
She asked the vendor to remove the shirt and complained to fair management. When the T-shirt wasn’t put away, a friend bought one for Bernstein and she stood outside the fair gates with the T-shirt in hand to ask people coming in what they thought about it.
In the 10 minutes Bernstein said she stood there, she said most people were complacent about it but some who passed her said they liked the shirt.
“What I see is the adults are perpetuating all of this,” Bernstein said. “These children are going by and they see the T-shirt and they think hatred is OK. How could anything change?”
Charleston County sheriff’s deputies asked Bernstein to leave. When she didn’t, she was arrested on a trespassing charge and fined $440, and she said she spent about eight hours in the county detention center.
Bernstein said she was confused by the arrest because she had paid admission and was not disruptive.
Chip Boling, president of the Coastal Carolina Fair, said Bernstein was well-mannered, but he said she was asked six times to leave for violating the fair’s policy against expressing political views on the private property.
“The reason she was arrested was because she refused to leave the grounds,” Boling said. “She was advised she was trespassing. It was an unfortunate thing, but it was her choice.”
Likewise, Boling said fair security asked people distributing campaign literature to leave the grounds throughout the 10-day fair that ended Saturday. He said in his 20 years with the fair, he knows of no other similar arrests. Boling said the fair respects individuals’ rights to personal beliefs and would not take a position on the T-shirt.
Bernstein said she did not believe the vendor had the right to sell the shirts, because she said it was offensive and inappropriate for children to see. “The more people generalize, the more people hate, the more divided the cultures are going to be,” said Bernstein, who moved from Los Angeles nine weeks ago. “It is so ugly here in the South.”
Bernstein said she does not have a record of protesting but felt it was her duty to speak up about the T-shirt for her 15-month-old son. “I am raising a child and what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t fight to change something as gross as this?” Bernstein said.
After seeing what she perceives as racism in the area, Bernstein said she plans to move as soon as she can afford it. She wants the fair’s management to apologize and drop the charge. She also wants the managers to provide fair staff with diversity training and have a booth at next year’s fair that promotes multiculturalism. She said she contacted all the fair’s sponsors to ask them to consider the situation when giving future support.
Boling said he does not know why the fair should apologize. “We tried not to send her to jail,” he said.
The fair’s objective is to retain a family-friendly atmosphere that improves the community by providing donations to organizations throughout the Lowcountry for program costs, Boling said.