Slayings put battle flag back in national spotlight

(File/Grace Beahm/Staff)

North Charleston city officials are expected to hold a news conference Monday calling for the Confederate flag’s removal from Statehouse grounds.

Other local leaders also might take part in the event at Park Circle.

The action comes a day after the flag and the killing of nine church members in Charleston dominated the Sunday political shows,

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn said the flag could embolden future violence and needs to go, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott promised a “robust conversation” about race relations.

“That is a battle flag that flies in front of the Statehouse,” Clyburn said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” He added, “That is a flag of rebellion.”

Clyburn said the history of the flag and its meaning in recent decades could make it a rallying point for violence.

Dylann Roof, the suspect in the slayings, displayed images of the flag on the front of his car and also posed with it in photographs.

“People get emboldened by all this,” Clyburn, a Democrat, said. “You’re certainly creating a climate to allow this kind of thing to happen.”

The state’s two most prominent black politicians spoke to news show hosts Sunday as parishioners returned to Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church for the first service since Wednesday’s fatal shootings.

Scott, a Republican, said he would further address the flag question but that it would be after the funerals of the victims, which will begin later this week.

“My voice will be clear,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “My position will be stated. I’m not going to make any breaking news here. I have made the commitment to waiting until after the funerals to start that debate. And I’m going to honor that commitment.”

The battle flag has flown at the Confederate monument outside the Statehouse since 2000 when lawmakers agreed to a compromise that took it off the capitol dome and also out of the House and Senate chambers.

As a protected monument, it would take a two-thirds majority to remove it.

Since the killings, various other elected and national leaders have called for its removal, including former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Scott said that debate “will be coming soon,” and called the nine killings “obviously a case of racism.” The shooter was “driven by hatred. And that is the clear and dominant reason this happened,” he said.

Scott was also asked about whether new gun regulations were called for. “I think when there’s that much evil in the heart,” he said, “it is hard to think of the right legislative solution for that problem.”

Other notable South Carolina figures who spoke to national media included Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who said he expected the effort to remove the flag ultimately will be successful because of the shootings.

He said keeping the flag in place sends a mixed message from the state that is an “affirmation” of racism and bigotry.

“They have appropriated something and used it as a symbol of hatred,” Riley said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

He also added that “it is insane the number of guns and the ease of getting guns in America.”

Some of the GOP presidential candidates also were asked about the flag Sunday, with two saying it should not be an issue on the White House campaign trail.

“I take the position that the federal government really has no role in determining what the states are going to do,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“My opinion is that we should let the people of South Carolina go through the process of making this decision,” added Santorum, who attended the service Sunday at Emanuel AME Church.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also took the position that the flag is not a matter for the 2016 election.

“I still feel like it’s not an issue for a person running for president,” Huckabee told host Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.”

“For those of us running for president, we’re getting baited with this question as if it has something to do with running for president,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee said it’s a state question, not a national one.

“I don’t think they want us to weigh in on every issue in all 50 states,” Huckabee said.

“I don’t personally display it anywhere,” he also said of the flag. “It’s not an issue for me.”