In an event captured live on all of the cable news networks Friday morning, South Carolina lowered the Confederate battle flag from outside its State House, where it had flow for more than 50 years.
The flag had long been a subject of public protests and disagreements in South Carolina, but it took the savage killing of nine black people at a church last month to inspire Gov. Nikki Haley and the South Carolina Legislature to support the removal of the divisive symbol.
And while a huge Confederate flag continues to ride high on private lands in Hillsborough County outside the clutches of government control, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller intends to have the Board of County Commissioners next week vote on the third national flag of Confederacy that hangs with four other flags in the lobby of the County Center on Kennedy Blvd.
One commissioner is already saying on the record he opposes Miller’s request. District 4 Republican Stacy White says he is “incensed over the political expediency that he has witnessed from politicians across the nation” since the massacre in Charleston by a 21-year-old white gunman, and says that the flag that Miller wants removed is displayed in a “respectful and dignified manner that is clearly within a historical context.”
“What you see going on around the country right now is exactly why politicians as a cohort enjoy such a low level of respect in our nation right now,” Commissioner White told Florida Politics on Friday afternoon. He says that removing Confederate flags or monuments regarding the Confederacy won’t do a single thing to eliminate racial hatred in America.
“What we really need to do if we’re serious about doing our duties as public officials is take a long hard look at hatred, community relations and quite frankly mental health as well,” he says, adding that, “We have a huge problem with black on black violence in this country. Let’s do something to address that.”
White says that while the public is free to state their opinion at next week’s commission meeting, he believes that the issue has become so politically charged and volatile that members of the public “may be apprehensive or even afraid to express their views in a public forum.” And that’s why he thinks it’s more appropriate that the board can get a more “honest” reaction from voters in a polling booth.
So next Wednesday he says he’ll propose putting the measure on the 2016 November ballot. He acknowledges that some will accuse him of punting on the issue, but says it’s better this way.
Commissioner Miller (who was out of town on Friday and not available for comment) has admitted that he wasn’t even aware that the flag existed in the building until he started getting calls from constituents immediately after the terrorist incident in Charleston on June 17. He recently told WTVT-Fox 13 that “The flag represents hatred. It represents discrimination and it shouldn’t be in a government building, and it’s time to come down.”
White disagrees, and says the fact that there’s been no protests or activism of any kind since this development has been reported in the local media over the past week indicates that it’s really not that big of a deal at all.
“What I believe people are thinking is…this is no big deal, let’s move on, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
The Board of County Commissioners will discuss both Miller and White’s proposals regarding the flag at its meeting next Wednesday that begins at 9 a.m. in the County Center.