Activist on Confederate flag: 'All they have to do is keep it down'

'So we ... took it upon ourselves to do the hard part and take it down,' said a member of the group that claims to have taken down the Confederate flag flying outside the South Carolina capitol. The flag was replaced about 45 minutes after it was removed.

Bruce Smith/AP
Bree Newsome of Charlotte, N.C., removes the Confederate battle flag at a Confederate monument at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday. She was taken into custody when she came down. The flag was raised again by capitol workers about 45 minutes later.

The day after the funeral for the Emanuel AME church pastor slain in Charleston, an activist scaled the 30-foot flagpole outside the South Carolina capitol and took down the Confederate flag.

Two 30-year-old North Carolina residents were arrested and charged Saturday morning with defacing a monument, according to a Department of Public Safety statement. The individuals, identified as Brittany "Bree" Newsome and James Tyson, could face up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both for the misdemeanor. They have since been released on bail.

The group that claimed responsibility for the act, calling themselves only "concerned citizens," wrote in a news release, “Deciding to do what the SC Legislature has thus far neglected to do, the group took down the symbol of white supremacy that inspired the massacre, continued to fly at full mast in defiance of South Carolina’s grief, and flew in defiance of everyone working to actualize a more equitable Carolinian future.”

Within about an hour of the flag’s removal, a replacement banner was hung in its place, the Department of Public Safety statement said.

The movement to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds was reignited after nine African American people were killed in a recent attack on a Charleston church. Though calls to take down the Civil War-era flag have been made in the past, it has remained secure thanks to a 2000 law that Gov. Nikki Haley has called legislators to review.

Tamika Lewis, who says she is one of the "concerned citizens" responsible for the flag removal, told The State she hoped the group’s action would push lawmakers to bypass the political complications involved in changing the law, and that the flag would stay down.

“They were having this hard decision whether or not to take it down,” she said. “A lot of them are concerned about their political value and their political careers and all worried about losing their constituencies and their voters if they vote for the removal of this flag.”

“So we ... took it upon ourselves to do the hard part and take it down. All they had to do was keep it down.”

At the funeral for Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church's pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, President Barack Obama called the flag "a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation."

President Obama and Governor Haley are two of a myriad of politicians who are saying the flag belongs in a museum, including Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and recently South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who called the banner a “road block.”

Still, those who believe the Confederate flag is an emblem of Southern pride rather than racial oppression continue to make themselves heard. Defenders of the flag like the Sons of Confederate Veterans gathered outside the capitol Saturday, waving Confederate flags, chanting, and engaging with protesters holding “Take It Down” signs, The State reported.

“They’re calling us racist. We’re not racist,” Sons of Confederate Veterans member Harrison Gasque told The State. “We just like our white heritage. We like our heritage to stay intact. We’re not trying to hurt anybody. We’re not trying to offend anybody.”

NAACP president and CEO Cornell Brooks released a statement defending Ms. Newsome, who took down the flag while Mr. Tyson stood below. He called her a “young practitioner of democracy" and urged prosecutors to treat her “with the same large-hearted measure of justice that inspired her actions.”

"As well as supporting the permanent removal of the flag legislatively," Brooks said, "we commend the courage and moral impulse of Ms. Newsome as she stands for justice like many NAACP activists including Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and numerous Americans who have engaged in civil disobedience."

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