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Why the confederate flag needs to come down at the South Carolina Capitol

To not put the flag at half staff reveals a fundamental disrespect for the value of human lives and those who have been lost to us this week.

Symbols matter.

It’s why we have flags in the first place. For our countries, our states, even our religions and our sports teams. It’s a way of showing allegiance. We fly the flag to say, “We stand with those who follow this symbol.” We advance the flag in battle. We surrender it in defeat.

So it matters that right now, in the wake of a horrific act of racist violence, the confederate flag is still flying at full staff on the capitol grounds of Columbia, South Carolina.

It matters because we bow the flag as a symbol of mourning. It’s a symbol of respect. It’s a way we say, “All who pledge allegiance to this flag are in mourning for the tragedy that has happened.”

That flag flying at the top of its staff says the opposite. It’s saying, “We’re not in mourning.” It’s saying, “Those who fly the confederate flag see no reason to mourn.” It’s saying, “We’re proud today of all that has happened.”

I understand why it’s not simple for our politicians to get the flag at half mast (though it seems to me to be evidence of, at best, short-sightedness and, more likely, capitulation to racist preference that such a condition was originally put in place), but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

I understand that there are those who see the confederate flag as a reminder of beloved ancestors who lost their lives in battle. I understand there are those who see it as a reminder of the importance of state’s rights and state’s sovereignty.

But surely we can agree that there are also those, like Dylann Roof, who see it as a statement of the desire to remove, enslave or kill African Americans. Surely we can agree that there are those who see the flag as a symbol of white supremacy. Surely we can agree that there are those who raise that flag in solidarity with racist ideals of a triumphant white race, or of fond memories of slavery.

The confederate flag, at the very least, needs to bow before the loss of human life that has happened this week. State’s rights are less important than human rights. The honoring of long-dead ancestors today is less important than mourning the recently murdered people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

So it takes a 2/3s vote of the general assembly to get that flag at half staff? What’s the hold up?

Ideally those who love that flag because of history or state’s rights would be the first to pull that flag down and shout that they do not approve of violence and hatred, that they do not endorse or encourage the murder of our citizens or anyone else. Ideally, we could set that flag on fire.

I didn’t grow up in the south. I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of the diverse feelings toward that flag.

For me, there is no complexity.

I am angry. I am deeply saddened. I am horrified that we need such clear and obvious violence to have a national conversation about the abuses perpetrated against ethnic minorities in our country every day.

So we are left with this question: confronted, yet again, with the systematized racism inherent in the United States culture, history and government, what will we do? What will I do?

I can’t be silent.

Symbols matter.

By Matt Mikalatos

Matt Mikalatos is a writer not a fighter.