In the wake of Wednesday's mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church, the national president of the NAACP is calling — once again — for the Confederate flag to be removed from the S.C. Statehouse grounds in Columbia.
"We cannot have the Confederate flag waving in the state capital," said NAACP President Cornell Brooks in a press conference outside the organization's Charleston branch office. "Some will assert that the Confederate flag is merely a symbol of years gone by, a symbol of heritage and not hate. But when we see that symbol lifted up as an emblem of hate, as a tool of hate, as an inspiration for hate, as an inspiration for violence, that symbol has to come down."
The white suspect in the shooting espoused white segregationist beliefs, according to multiple media interviews with people who know him, and pictures from a Facebook account that appears to be his show him standing in front of his car with a Confederate-themed license plate in the front.
"Yes, there may be multiple sides to this debate, but clearly we all have to be on the side of those who lost their lives in a church," Brooks said.
The NAACP has been calling for tourists and businesses to boycott the state for years due to the flying of the flag. In 2000, activists won a small compromise by having the flag removed from the Statehouse dome and placed atop a memorial to Confederate soldiers on the Statehouse grounds. However, the flag remains highly visible; it is the first thing you see as you approach the Statehouse from the north on Main Street.
Numerous organizations and companies have participated in the boycott, including the NCAA, which has not held postseason sporting event at any predetermined site in South Carolina since 2001 (the "predetermined" language allows some tournament play to take place in South Carolina, as the top 16 teams in women's basketball automatically host their first two postseason games). The Harlem Globetrotters boycotted the state for 14 years, despite the fact that their head coach lives in Blythewood, before returning to play seven shows in South Carolina early this year.
"The South Carolina state conference of the NAACP has long led a boycott," Brooks said. "One of the ways we can bring that flag down is by writing to companies, engaging companies that are thinking about doing business in South Carolina, speaking to the governor, speaking to the legislature and saying the flag has to come down."
During the press conference, Brooks called the Emanuel shooting "a flesh-and-blood obscenity in our midst" and insisted that the crime be referred to as a terrorist hate crime — not merely an isolated incident.
"The fact that this shooting took place in a church, in a Bible study, where the shooter asked for the pastor by name, it says to us we have to examine the underlying racial animus and racial hate," Brooks said. "This was not merely a mass shooting, not merely a matter of gun violence. This was a racial hate crime and must be confronted as such."
When asked if the NAACP would push state lawmakers to pass a hate crime law in next year's legislative session, Brooks said it would. "The fact of the matter is we need prosecutorial tools that are finely calibrated to address these kinds of crimes," Brooks said.
At the press conference, state Conference President Lonnie Randolph also urged minorities to vote and repeated Brooks' call for the removal of the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds.
Throughout the conference, Brooks questioned the narrative that the shooter, Dylann Roof, was an isolated criminal with non-racial motivations.
"We have to ask the question: Where did the shooter come from? What inspired him? Who was he acting on behalf of, if anyone?" Brooks said. "We have to ask ourselves a question: Is this a matter of a lone shooter with a singular hatred? ... Is the right terminology a lone shooter, or is the right terminology a domestic terrorist?"
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