For more than half a century, the Confederate battle flag has flown at South Carolina’s Statehouse. But the flagpole on the grounds of the Columbia Capitol building briefly stood unadorned Saturday after an activist climbed it and removed the Confederate emblem.
Early Saturday morning, a black woman identified as North Carolina activist Bree Newsome, 30, scaled the pole and removed the flag before being arrested by police at the scene.
— Todd Zimmer (@neutralized) June 27, 2015
Newsome, wearing a helmet and tree climbing equipment, told police officers “I’m prepared to be arrested” as she descended the pole amid cheers from onlookers.
Around the time of her arrest, Newsome emailed a statement to the media, according to The Associated Press.
“We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. We can’t continue like this another day,” the statement said. “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”
Another activist, Jimmy Tyson, 30, was arrested for helping Newsome.
The South Carolina Department of Public Safety said the two have been charged with defacing a monument, a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $5,000 and a prison term of up to three years — or both — The Guardian reported.
The presence of the Confederate flag at the Statehouse has become the subject of much debate since the racially-motivated June 17 shootings of nine black parishioners at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Photos obtained by the media show the shooter, Dylann Roof, posing with the flag.
In a Friday eulogy to the victims of the shooting, President Obama said that for many Americans, the flag has been a “reminder of systematic oppression and racial subjugation.”
Others, including South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley, have called for the flag’s removal from the Capitol grounds.
Newsome is the western field director for Ignite NC, a North Carolina activist group.
In a statement on the Ignite NC’s website, the group said, “We call on the governor to pardon Bree Newsome for her courageous actions. Now is not the time to engage in gradual or incremental steps. The soul of this nation cries out for justice and government must hear that call.”
Activists have begun circulating a petition for Newsome’s release online.
The flag was replaced within an hour of her arrest on Saturday.