Backing to oust Confederate flag
Published 30/06/2015 | 05:26
A push to remove the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina's statehouse grounds has gained enough support among politicians, a survey has shown.
The campaign to remove the flag, a Civil War era symbol of the secessionist, pro-slavery rebel South, follows the shooting deaths of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston on June 17.
The pastor, state senator Clementa Pinckney, was among the dead and the shooting suspect, Dylann Roof, was shown in photographs brandishing the flag as a symbol of hate.
State governor Nikki Haley has called on legislators to send the battle flag to a museum.
While the flag for many South Carolinians stands for noble traditions of history, heritage and ancestry, for many others it was a "deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past", she said a week ago, adding: "The events of the past week call upon all of us to look at this in a different way."
In the survey, the Post and Courier newspaper, the South Carolina Press Association and the Associated Press asked all politicians how they intended to vote. At least 33 state senators and 82 state house of representatives members said the flag should go.
That appears to meet the two-thirds majority needed from both chambers to move the battle flag. That rule is part of the 2000 compromise that took the flag off the statehouse dome in Columbia and put a smaller, square version beside a monument to Confederate soldiers.
There are 123 members in the house and 45 in the senate. The exact number needed to pass a bill is uncertain. The two-thirds requirement applies to whoever is present and voting at the time.
A day after Ms Haley made her public request, politicians overwhelmingly approved a resolution allowing them to add the flag to their special session's agenda. But that does not mean the debate will go smoothly.
Some did not want to risk harsh words amid a week of funerals. Legislators are expected to return to Columbia to consider Ms Haley's budget vetoes and take up legislation that would remove the flag.
"This is truly a defining moment for the leadership of this state and nation - not by mere words but bold and decisive action," said Democrat Jerry Govan, a house of representatives member since 1993.
Like most of the Legislative Black Caucus at the time, Mr Govan voted against the 2000 compromise.
Republican senator Kevin Bryant said the Charleston massacre, followed by an outpouring of forgiveness from the victims' families, changed his opinion on the flag.
It's a testament to Mr Pinckney that the shooter "so evil and full of hate was offered forgiveness and the light of Christ by the very people whom he sought to destroy", Mr Bryant said.
"Senator Pinckney is no longer with us, yet his message of love and forgiveness is strong in South Carolina."
Roof, 21, faces nine murder charges for the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Some legislators said they would not respond until after the funerals for all nine victims and others said they were still undecided.
Two proposals to remove the flag would send it to the state Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum. A third simply takes it down.
Meanwhile Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, c ampaigning in South Carolina, told voters that he removed the Confederate battle flag from the Florida capitol grounds in 2001 when he was governor.
He told about 100 employees of a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant outside Columbia that the banner had been a "racist symbol" in "recent, modern times", though "not perhaps at the beginning".
Mr Bush said he decided to send the flag in Florida to a museum "where our heritage can be respected" while recognising that the banner is among "symbols that have divided the South" for generations.
One man has been arrested following a fight over the Confederate flag in front of the statehouse.
Public safety department spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli said a bout a dozen vehicles containing Confederate flag supporters pulled up in front of the statehouse and stopped in the middle of the street.
Officers said about 10 of the flag supporters clashed with 30 people on the statehouse grounds who were staging a protest.
Twenty-five-year-old Nicholas Thompson of Irmo has been charged with disorderly conduct.