"This Flag Comes Down Today": Bree Newsome Scales SC Capitol Flagpole, Takes Down Confederate Flag

July 03, 2015
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On June 27, Bree Newsome, a 30-year-old African-American woman, was arrested at the state Capitol after scaling the 30-foot flagpole and unhooking the Confederate flag. As police officers shouted at her to come down, Bree Newsome shimmied to the top, took the flag in her hand and said, "You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!" Newsome recited Psalm 27 and the Lord’s Prayer as she brought the flag down. As soon as she reached the ground, she was arrested, along with James Tyson, who had stood at the bottom of the pole to spot her as she climbed. The action went viral and was seen around the world. Democracy Now! was at the jail where Newsome was taken, where we spoke with her supporters. The flag was replaced about an hour after Newsome took it down. We also spoke with supporters of the flag, who rallied at the Capitol Saturday, and with the counter-protesters who confronted them.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Bree Newsome singing "#StayStrong: A Love Song to Freedom Fighters," and it’s Bree Newsome we’re talking about today. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Democracy Now! has just returned from South Carolina, where the massacre of nine African-American churchgoers by a white suspect who embraced the Confederate flag has renewed protests to remove the Confederate battle flag from outside the state Capitol on its grounds. Last Tuesday, South Carolina state lawmakers agreed to debate removing the flag later this summer. But early Saturday morning, a 30-year-old African-American woman named Bree Newsome, with a helmet and climbing gear, scaled the 30-foot flagpole and unhooked the Confederate flag. As police officers shouted at her to come down, Bree Newsome shimmied to the top of that flagpole, took the flag in her hand and said, quote, "You come against me with hatred ... I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!"

BREE NEWSOME: You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!

AMY GOODMAN: Bree Newsome recited Psalm 27 and the Lord’s Prayer as she brought the flag down. As soon as she reached the ground, she was arrested, along with James Tyson, who had stood at the bottom of the pole to spot her as she climbed. News station WIS spoke to Bree Newsome as she was led away in handcuffs. She told them, quote, "Every day that flag stays up there is an endorsement of hate."

WIS REPORTER: And why did you do that?

BREE NEWSOME: Because it was the right thing to do, and it’s time for somebody to step up, do the right thing. We have to bury hate. It’s been too long. It’s killing us, literally. We can’t do this. We can’t be warring with each other all the time. It’s not right.

WIS REPORTER: Why not wait until lawmakers vote to take it down?

BREE NEWSOME: What is there to vote on? There’s doing the right thing, and there’s doing the wrong thing. It’s time for people to have the courage. Everybody who knows what the right thing is to do, we have to step up in love and nonviolence. We have to do the right thing, or else it won’t stop. Every day that flag hangs up there is an endorsement of hate. I prayed on it. And I was very afraid, but then I wasn’t afraid anymore, because, you know, the lord calls us all to do different things. This is what he called me to do. This is what I do.

WIS REPORTER: Ma’am, what is your name?

BREE NEWSOME: Bree Newsome.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bree Newsome speaking to WIS, the local station in Columbia. She was being escorted away by a black law enforcement officer. Bree Newsome’s action went viral and was seen around the world. Her bail fund has raised over $110,000. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay was among the many to hail her, writing on Twitter, quote, "I hope I get the call to direct the motion picture about a black superhero I admire. Her name is @BreeNewsome."

But within about an hour, a maintenance worker and state security officer had raised a new Confederate battle flag on the Capitol grounds.

Bree Newsome’s protest capped a week which saw at least six predominantly black churches across the South destroyed or damaged by fire, at least three of them arsons. It came one day after President Obama delivered the eulogy at the funeral for South Carolina State Senator and Reverend Clementa Pinckney at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He was speaking at the College of Charleston, the arena that held thousands. Democracy Now! was there as the president called for the flag to come down.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Removing the flag from this state’s Capitol would not be an act of political correctness. It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought—the cause of slavery—was wrong. The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people, was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama speaking Friday before thousands of people at the College of Charleston for the funeral for Reverend and State Senator Clementa Pinckney. That was one day before Bree Newsome took the Confederate battle flag down on the Capitol grounds in nearby Columbia, the state capital. At 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, the funeral service began for Cynthia Hurd, a 54-year-old librarian killed in the Charleston massacre on June 17th by the accused white shooter Dylann Roof.

Meanwhile, in the capital, Columbia, about two hours away, Confederate flag supporters held a rally in front of the newly replaced flag. Antiracist counter-protesters also attended, standing shoulder to shoulder with the flag supporters, asking passing drivers to "honk the flag down." Democracy Now! was there. I spoke with the protesters on both sides.

WILLIAM WELLS: Heritage, not hate! Heritage, not racism! Heritage, not racism!

My name is William Wells. And I’m flying this flag for the people who died, all of the people who died, anybody who died for this flag, period. Period. It ain’t got nothing to do with black, white, love, hate, nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you opposed to slavery?

WILLIAM WELLS: Hell yeah, I’m opposed to slavery. That wasn’t cool either.

AMY GOODMAN: So what does this flag means you?

WILLIAM WELLS: This means the 13 original colonies wanted to stay out of the United States government.

AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask what your thoughts are, listening to him and this rally? What is your name?

BRAILEY JOHNSON: My name’s Brailey.

AMY GOODMAN: And tell me the sign you’re saying—you’re holding?

BRAILEY JOHNSON: It’s to represent the nine people who lost their lives in Charleston.

AMY GOODMAN: And what else does it say?

BRAILEY JOHNSON: It says, "Honk the flag down."

AMY GOODMAN: What are your thoughts about the Confederate flag?

BRAILEY JOHNSON: It doesn’t represent me, my people, my people.

WILLIAM WELLS: Whoa, whoa, whoa. "My people," you’re saying?

BRAILEY JOHNSON: My people as in African Americans. I’m an African-American woman.

WILLIAM WELLS: You’re a black American.

BRAILEY JOHNSON: I’m an African American.

WILLIAM WELLS: I’m a white American. I’m married to a brown American.

BRAILEY JOHNSON: Excuse me, I was speaking.

WILLIAM WELLS: I’m sorry. You’re right.

BRAILEY JOHNSON: Thank you. So, as an African-American woman, this flag—I go to USC. And every time I have to walk past this flag, it hurts. It’s not—it doesn’t make me feel good about being a South Carolinian. I’ve never been proud to be a South Carolinian until this past week, because I see how great people are in Charleston. They’re really trying to fight for love. And I just want—I don’t want my children to have to grow up in South Carolina and see that flag that represents so much turmoil for African Americans. And I understand people want to say it’s not a race thing, but to me it is.

WILLIAM WELLS: Flag for the Americans who died! Flag for the Americans who died!

MONIFA LEMONS: [inaudible] just stand still and not say anything, their hate has not come out. And I say "they," because I mean hatred [inaudible]...

My name is Monifa Lemons. What that flag means to me is—we’re standing on a street now that if you cross over that bridge—right?—you know not to be there at night. If I cross over that bridge and I drive into a yard with a Confederate flag, I know not to ask them for help if I have a flat tire. I just know that. I’m not saying it’s true. I’m saying that I know that. All right? I’m saying that I know that for a fact. So, what we have to do is stop acting like we don’t know that when somebody has a Confederate flag in their yard, don’t stop there.

PROTESTER 1: Yo, take it down! Take it down! That’s right! Let’s go! Let’s go!

JALALUDIN ABDUL-HAMID: Take the flag down.

PROTESTER 2: Take it down.

PROTESTER 3: Take it down.

PROTESTER 2: Take it down.

JALALUDIN ABDUL-HAMID: This is just the first stepping stone.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does your sign say, sir?

JALALUDIN ABDUL-HAMID: Oh, my sign, I’m going to let you—I’m going to let it show for itself.

AMY GOODMAN: But for people who are listening on the radio.

JALALUDIN ABDUL-HAMID: Well, "I can’t believe I still have to protest this crap!" Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Really, how many years are we still protesting it? How many marches? How many lives? How many lives? That’s the main part. How many more lives that we have to mourn over?

AMY GOODMAN: What’s your name?

JALALUDIN ABDUL-HAMID: My name is Jalaludin.

HAZE BERGERON: I’m Haze Bergeron. Did you hear Lindsey Graham the other day on the floor of the Senate say that like what happened in Charleston was some Mideast-style hate? Like where has he been living this whole time? He’s from South Carolina. That’s some South Carolina-style hate, if you ask me. That’s some white-ass South Carolina racial hate. That’s all that is.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is your name?

STEWART: Stewart.

AMY GOODMAN: And why are you here today?

STEWART: I’m here because a friend called me and said they were going to have a rally and—that guy with the big flag over there, that’s who called me.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the flag?

STEWART: Oh, the Confederate flag.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Dylann Roof did the wrong thing?

STEWART: What he did was give a black eye to the Confederate flag by allowing the media and irrational people to say, "Well, that monument has got to come down because some nut killed somebody," which has nothing to do with that monument. The monument was not built over racism and over hatred. The monument was built because people died fighting for this state, just like the Vietnam War Memorial and World War II.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.

STEWART: They love the people that died for this state.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.

STEWART: Do you?

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Stewart.

STEWART: Thank you. What is your name?

AMY GOODMAN: My name is Amy, and I’m from New York.

STEWART: Amy what? What is your last name?

AMY GOODMAN: Goodman.

STEWART: Goodman.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah.

AMY LITTLEFIELD: Now you have to tell us your last name, sir.

STEWART: Are you Jewish? Somebody told me that was a Jewish name.

PROTESTER 4: Take it down!

PROTESTER 5: Take it down!

PROTESTER 6: Take it down!

PROTESTER 5: What’s the problem? What’s the holdup?

PROTESTER 6: Flag gotta go. Take it down.

TOM CLEMENTS: My name is Tom Clements, and I live in Columbia, born in Savannah, Georgia.

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s your great-great-grandfather?

TOM CLEMENTS: Well, this was—I did this in 2008 when I came down on Confederate Memorial Day, but I had a great-great-grandfather that was captured at the Battle of Spotsylvania, at the Bloody Angle—and I’ve been there—which was just an awful, awful, horrific massacre, basically. I have another—my—

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, and he was a Confederate soldier?

TOM CLEMENTS: He was Confederate from Georgia. He was in this division, and they had this flag, which was certainly—

AMY GOODMAN: The 31st Georgia Volunteer Infantry.

TOM CLEMENTS: Yes, from central Georgia. He had five brothers. So there were six of them. Three of them were killed in the Civil War.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re here with the folks that are waving the Confederate flag?

TOM CLEMENTS: Oh, no, absolutely not. No, I’m totally against what they stand for. And I find that they don’t really know the history. They haven’t even read the December 1860 reasons for secession, which were all about slavery. But I, my whole life pretty much, have had the same viewpoint, that the flag should be taken down. I like to pitch it that we’ve been fighting the Civil War down here since the war was over. I mean, 150 years. We just commemorated it here in South Carolina. It’s time to get beyond it.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, down the road from the Capitol grounds at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia, a bond hearing was held for Bree Newsome and James Tyson. They were charged with defacing state property, which can carry three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. About a dozen supporters waited in the lobby of the jail for their release, including fellow activists from North Carolina, where Bree Newsome lives. I spoke with some of her supporters.

AMY GOODMAN: What were your feelings as you watched the Confederate flag being taken down on the property of the state Capitol?

TAMIKA LEWIS: As you can see my glee, it was one of the most liberating and beautiful moments that I have known in all my 25 years of life, besides my daughter being born. To see that flag actually come down and all of the things that it represents being taken down by a strong black woman was one of the greatest symbols—symbolic images that one person could ever witness, I feel, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: That was very interesting. During this whole past week after the massacre of the nine Emanuel parishioners and their pastor, you had the American flag above the state Capitol, the South Carolina flag above the state Capitol, both at half-mast.

TAMIKA LEWIS: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: And right next to them you had—

TAMIKA LEWIS: Flying strong and strong. And I think what it symbolizes hurts—

AMY GOODMAN: The Confederate battle flag—

TAMIKA LEWIS: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —flying at half-mast—at full mast.

TAMIKA LEWIS: At full mast, right? Flying free, while the people who were murdered are laying under the casket, right? While you’re viewing people’s caskets and viewing the people while they’re laid to rest, you can look up, and although there was a black curtain, you still know what was on the other side of that curtain.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you had to walk past the Confederate flag, right?

TAMIKA LEWIS: Flag, to even get there. So some people I know personally—my friend waited two hours under the Confederate flag, right? And we see the pictures of the murderer, and he’s holding these Confederate flags with so much glee and joy and pride. And it’s just like, why would we allow this to continue to stand? Why would our legislators, our councilmen, our mayor, the president? He was here. He could have taken it down himself if he really felt compelled to. Just saying.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean by executive order?

TAMIKA LEWIS: By executive order, yes.

CORINE MACK: My name is Corine Mack. I’m the president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP. I was notified this morning that one of my chairpeople was arrested, so I came down to ensure that she was OK and to give her some support. Bree Newsome is the chair of our social media and the co-chair of our young adults.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the Confederate flag mean to you?

CORINE MACK: Hate and segregation. It doesn’t mean anything American at all. And in fact, when you lose a war anywhere else in the country, that flag is not allowed to be flown anywhere. So why should we allow it here in the United States?

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you tell us your name?

KARIL TINAE PARKER: Hi. I’m Karil Parker.

AMY GOODMAN: And you came out here on your own to the detention center?

KARIL TINAE PARKER: I did. I came out here to show my support for Bree, that this is just—this is not her battle alone, that we stand with her. She did what many people have not had the courage to do, and that we are proud of her, that we support her. Whatever she needs, we are here for her. And I wanted her to know that, and that’s why I came. But it doesn’t matter how you feel about whether she should or should not have done it. She did it. It’s done. And it needs to come down. And she has done what our governor hasn’t had the courage to do, what our General Assembly hasn’t had the courage to do. She went up there and did what had to be done, when it needed to be done.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s over 100 degrees here. I’m looking at your T-shirt. Can you tell us what it says?

KARIL TINAE PARKER: What it says, it says, "Dream like Martin." It says, "Lead like Harriet." It says, "Fight like Malcolm. Think like Garvey. Write like Maya. Build like Madam C.J. Speak like Frederick. Educate like W. E. B. Believe like Thurgood," who was here—from here, might I add? "Challenge like Rosa."

AMY GOODMAN: Are you going to be adding another name to that list?

KARIL TINAE PARKER: Yeah, yeah. We’re going to "snatch down like Bree."

AMY GOODMAN: So, Carol, you’re from Columbia.

KARIL TINAE PARKER: This is my home, born and raised.

AMY GOODMAN: And so you’ve seen this flag for a very long time.

KARIL TINAE PARKER: I’ve seen this flag, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: This—well, the particular flagpole.

KARIL TINAE PARKER: Mm-hmm, I have. And that flag doesn’t mean any more today than it meant two weeks ago. That flag has always meant hate. And now Dylann Roof has just brought that hate to the light. It’s not a secret. That flag has always meant hate. It meant hate when I was in high school. I have no problem with you wearing your flag if you want to wear it on your T-shirt. I have a problem with it standing in front of what is supposed to be our state House, our state House grounds. That’s a problem, because it may mean heritage to you, but if it means hate to me, it doesn’t diminish what it means to me. It still means oppression. It still means hate. It still means slavery. And that just—that’s not going to change.

AMY GOODMAN: Tamika, was there a discussion about whether to wait for the South Carolina Legislature to take their time in a debate?

TAMIKA LEWIS: So we’ve noticed that they have been pushing it off for a very long time, since everything started to happen. And we just didn’t have time for it, basically. I think that’s how we summarize and use that, right? They still—it’s ambiguous, right? They’re going to wait. They’re going to take it to House, and then they’re going to stop, and then they’re going to come back to it. And it might have not been until the end of July or August, and then we don’t even know what they’re going to rule. So, the country will be waiting around to figure out what it is, and they might not even favor in the removal of the flag.

AMY GOODMAN: Tamika Lewis, Karil Parker and Corine Mack, speaking outside the jail in Columbia, South Carolina. Bree Newsome and Jimmy Tyson were both released from jail on Saturday afternoon after supporters posted the requisite $300 of their $3,000 bond each. Their next court appearance is July 27th in Columbia, South Carolina.


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