Now that Dylann Roof has been arrested on charges of killing nine people at a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, America's eyes and anger have turned toward the Confederate flag flying outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia.

At present, the other two flags at the state house, an American flag and South Carolina's palmetto and crescent moon flag, are at half-staff, and will remain that way for nine days in honor of the nine victims. But the Confederate one, which flies on a separate pole on the state house grounds, is not, creating a sight that many people see as an ugly symbol of the racism that motivated Roof.

The sight has prompted a surge of calls to have it taken down entirely. “Take down the flag,” Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in a blog post for The Atlantic. “Take it down now.

“Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.”

The Confederate battle flag, which is protected under the 2000 South Carolina Heritage Act, has long been a sensitive subject in the state. Its supporters call it a symbol of Southern tradition and a nod to the state’s cultural heritage; detractors call it an emblem of slavery, treason, bloodshed and systematic racist oppression.

But South Carolina officials have to wrestle with more than those two viewpoints. According to WIS-TV, the Confederate flag was not raised using a pulley, meaning that it is not technically possible for it to fly at half-staff. It can either fly normally, or be taken down. And, under the South Carolina Heritage Act, the flag cannot be taken down. 

That, in turn, led to calls on social media for people to take matters into their own hands. 




How long the flag flies might literally become a matter of debate. Unlike the South Carolina state flag and the American flag, Gov. Nikki Haley does not have the authority to lower the Confederate one. Only the Legislature has the authority to do so.