Shootings reignite debate over Confederate flag use
In the hours after a gunman entered a Charleston, S.C., church and shot nine African-Americans to death during a Bible study, Gov. Nikki Haley ordered all state flags to be lowered and remain at half-staff for nine days.
But one banner continues to wave tall at a war memorial on the Capitol grounds — the Confederate flag, a symbol fraught with emotion and political complexity in the Southern state, and one that was apparently celebrated by the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof.
The reaction from outside observers and activists was swift. Social media commenters insisted South Carolina #takedowntheflag. “Take it down now,” wrote the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward ... Save your lovely souls.”
Speaking in Charleston on Friday, Cornell William Brooks, national NAACP president, demanded the flag be removed, saying that while “some will assert that the Confederate flag is merely a symbol of years gone by,” the flag is “lifted up as an emblem of hate and a tool of hate” and “an inspiration for violence.”
Why can’t state leaders take down this old, embattled standard?
They are not allowed to — not without a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Republican-controlled state Legislature. A law enacted in 2000, which removed the rebel flag from the dome of the statehouse, also prevents any modifications to state monuments without a supermajority.
That part of the law makes it extremely unlikely that such a vote could be successful anytime soon.
“It’s like getting political Ebola,” said David Woodard, a longtime Republican political consultant and professor of political science at Clemson University, of the Confederate flag issue. “Any time you touch it you’re going to make more enemies than friends.”
Woodard recalled the hard-fought battle in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the NAACP announced a boycott on tourism to the Palmetto State in protest of the flag and the issue became part of the national conversation during the Republican presidential primary between John McCain and George W. Bush.
“It was just a very, very tense situation, and you weren’t going to come up with a solution that was going to make everybody happy,” Woodard said.