COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Confederate flag was temporarily removed from the front of the South Carolina Statehouse on Saturday when a woman climbed the flagpole and — despite calls by police to get down — removed the banner.
Bree Newsome, 30, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was about halfway up the more than 30-foot steel flagpole just after dawn Saturday when officers of the South Carolina Bureau of Protective Services ran to the flagpole and told her to get down. Instead, she continued climbing to the top and removed the flag.
She and a man who had climbed over a four-foot wrought-iron fence to get to the flag were arrested.
The flag, which is protected by state law, was raised about 45 minutes later, well ahead of a rally later Saturday by supporters of keeping the flag where it is.
Sherri Iacobelli, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, said Newsome and James Ian Tyson, 30, also of Charlotte, have been charged with defacing monuments on state Capitol grounds. That’s a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $5,000 and a prison term of up to three years or both.
A staff member at the Alvin Glenn Detention Center where the two were taken said she did not know if they had attorneys. About the time of her arrest, Newsome released an email statement to the media.
“We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. We can’t continue like this another day,” it said. “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”
Authorities said Newsome was from Raleigh. However, Mervyn Marcano, a spokesman for the small group of activists who worked together to take down the flag, said she had recently moved to Charlotte.
Tamika Lewis, another member of the group, said taking down the flag “was done because we were tired of waiting for the judicial system to make the decision they have been prolonging for a very long time.”
Later Saturday, about 50 people who support keeping the flag held a rally at the statehouse. Many were waving Confederate flags as they shouted “Heritage Not Hate!”
“This is not a flag of hate. It’s a flag of heritage, and we have a right to our heritage,” said Leland Browder of Greenville. “And, you know, I’m from the South and proud of the South and, you know, proud of this flag.”
Supporters also said the voters should decide the fate of the flag and shouted: “Let the People Vote.”
Calls for removing the flag have been renewed since nine black churchgoers were killed in what police characterized as a racist attack at a Charleston, South Carolina church last week.
South Carolina lawmakers took the initial steps last Tuesday toward removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds by agreeing to allow discussion of the matter during the legislative session.
The agreement came a day after Republican Gov. Nikki Haley reversed course and called for the divisive symbol to come down. The flag has flown in front of the state Capitol for 15 years after being moved from atop the Statehouse dome.
The NAACP praised Newsome for her actions and called on authorities to treat her with leniency.
“Prosecutors should treat Ms. Newsome with the same large-hearted measure of justice that inspired her actions. The NAACP stands with our youth and behind the multigenerational band of activists fighting the substance and symbols of bigotry, hatred and intolerance,” NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said in an emailed statement.
Some state lawmakers, however, worried that Newsome’s actions will hurt efforts to bring the flag down permanently.
“There are 2 ways the Confederate Flag can be removed forever. Citizens please engage legally or we lose!” state Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston, a Democrat, said on his Twitter account.
And, in another tweet, Republican state Sen. Shane Massey of Edgefield said such actions” will make this discussion much more difficult.” Both lawmakers favor bringing down the flag.