CHARLESTON, S.C. South Carolina activists on Monday stepped up their call for lawmakers to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds five days after a white gunman allegedly shot dead nine black worshippers at a historic church in Charleston.
The demand by U.S. civil rights leaders and local elected officials for the state to remove the rallying symbol of the pro-slavery South during the U.S. civil war follows revelations that 21-year-old Dylann Roof, charged with Wednesday’s attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, had posted a racist manifesto on the Internet and posed with the flag.
“The time has come to remove this symbol of hate and division from our state capitol,” said Reverend Nelson Rivers, pastor of the Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, South Carolina. “The time has come for the general assembly to do what it ought to have done a long time ago, which is to remove this symbol of divisiveness and even terrorism to some,” said Rivers, who is black.
Many liberal Americans consider the flag an emblem of slavery but many conservatives say it is a symbol of the south’s history and culture.
Roof was arrested on Thursday and charged with nine counts of murder for allegedly gunning down members of a Bible study group at the “Mother Emanuel” church after sitting with them for an hour on Wednesday night.
The attack, in a year in which the United States has been rocked by protests over police killings of unarmed black men, has inflamed a national debate on race relations, policing and the criminal justice system.
President Barack Obama weighed in a podcast posted online on Monday, saying the killings showed the United States still had a long way to go in addressing racism, using an epithet to make his point.
“We’re not cured of it,” Obama told Mark Maron, host of the “WTF” podcast. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists.”
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, was set to make remarks at 4:00 p.m. (2000 GMT).
“The Confederate battle flag years and years ago was appropriated as a symbol of hate,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, who is white. “It is a piece of history and it belongs in a history museum.”