A Confederate flag near South Carolina’s State House in Columbia remained at full height Thursday after a deadly shooting at an African-American church in Charleston. The flag has been criticized as a powerful symbol of racism in the country, but its defenders have said it represents the heritage of the state. Getty Images

The Confederate flag, regarded by many as a potent reminder of slavery, has continued to provoke controversy in the wake of a mass shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, Wednesday. Some lawmakers, responding to criticism of a Confederate flag still flying near the State House in Columbia, have defended it, saying it’s a symbol not of hate but of the state’s history.

When asked whether the flag should be removed, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, the Republican who represents the district where the shooting took place, said he didn’t think that was the solution to the problem. “I don’t know. I mean, that’s opening up Pandora’s box,” Sanford said on MSNBC Friday. He referred to a 2000 law that resulted in the flag being moved from the top of the Capitol building to a nearby monument. He said the state’s embrace of the Confederate flag was a “complex issue.”

Gov. Nikki Haley’s press secretary, responding to calls for the flag’s removal, said that was not the governor’s call. “In South Carolina, the governor does not have legal authority to alter the flag. Only the General Assembly can do that,” the press secretary said.

American flags flew at half-staff Thursday to honor the nine victims of the shooting at a historically black church whose roots go back to the Civil War era. In front of the State House in Columbia, however, the Confederate flag was not lowered.

Many were outraged that the Confederate flag stood at full height while the U.S. and South Carolina state flags were dropped. “Take down the flag. Take it down now,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, a correspondent for the Atlantic magazine, wrote Thursday. Social-media users were quick to point out the irony of the flag flying in the state’s capital and called for it to be taken down.

The Charleston shooter’s apparent white-supremacy sympathies and the allegations that he targeted African-Americans during his killing spree have sparked conversations about the history of racism in the South, a region where the Confederate flag is still embraced. The front license plate of the shooter Dylann Roof’s car bore its image, and many residents still fly the flag next to the U.S. flag.

Roof was arrested Thursday in Shelby, North Carolina, about 245 miles from Charleston. He was spotted by a florist named Debbie Dills, who recognized his car and haircut from a description she heard in a news report. She trailed Roof’s car for miles before authorities caught up with him.