At least one South Carolina politician is speaking up for removing the Confederate battle flag from the state house grounds after Wednesday’s slaughter of nine people in a historic Charleston black church. Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, the state capital, said Friday that not only does he want the flag removed from outside the capitol, he wants it out of all government buildings across the state, Politico reported.
Benjamin was attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco when he noted how the South Carolina state flag and the American flag were both flown Thursday at half-staff on the state house dome, while the Confederate flag flew nearby at full-staff. “The official flag of our state is flying at half-mast, the official flag of our country is flying at half-mast,” Benjamin said Friday, according to Politico. “This is a flag at a monument at the state capitol. Flying it at half-mast would indicate it’s an official symbol of our republic, and it is not. It shouldn’t be flying at all.”
The Confederate flag, long a bitter issue in South Carolina, has come under renewed scrutiny following Wednesday’s shooting by Dylann Roof, whose car had plates bearing the Stars and Bars. The fact that Roof specifically targeted one of the country's most historic African-American churches only underscored the racial overtones of the crime. The flag was relocated in 2000 from the top of the state house dome to a nearby enclosure on the grounds because of a similar controversy.
Benjamin’s comments stand in stark contrast to those from other South Carolina politicians, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican presidential candidate, who dismissed any connection of the flag to the shooting and instead placed the blame in its entirety on Roof. "We're not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere. It's him ... not the flag," Graham told CNN Friday.
As recently as last November, most South Carolina residents – 61 percent -- were in favor of flying the flag on the state house grounds, according to a poll by the Slate newspaper of Columbia. And 73 percent of whites said it should remain in place.
Gov. Nikki Haley seemingly agrees with the poll’s findings, as she said Friday the flag wasn't her main priority at the time. "I think the state will start talking about that again, and we'll see where it goes," Haley said, according to the Huffington Post, before continuing: "To start having policy conversations with the people of South Carolina, I understand that's what y'all want. My job is to heal the people of this state."