Criminal Justice
 

Caddo leaders to take down Confederate flag

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

Caddo Parish Commissioners voted 11-1 to remove a Confederate flag from outside the Caddo Parish Courthouse in Shreveport this afternoon.

Nov. 4, 2011: This story has been corrected to reflect the Louisiana Supreme Court appeal.

The third national flag of the Confederate States of America, adopted in 1865 not long before the Confederate surrender, has flown outside the courthouse since 1951. It was recently invoked in a U.S. Louisiana Supreme Court hearing appealing the death penalty of an African American man. His attorneys argued that the presence of the flag showed the court is racist and its decisions cannot be trusted. The court removed five of seven potential black jurors from an eventual jury of 11 whites and one African American in that case.

After this afternoon’s vote, Caddo Parish Commissioner Joyce Bowman, who placed the removal of the flag on the commission agenda, said she would like to see it taken down tomorrow.

The Confederate Flag flies outside the Caddo Parish Courthouse in Shreveport recently. Image courtesy Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which has lobbied for the flag’s removal.

“I went to qualify as a commissioner over at the courthouse, and I passed that flag, and in my opinion, it does not represent what I believe,” Bowman said. “All 12 of our pictures hang on the courthouse wall, and to an extent it suggests that I support what is there. I do not support it.”

Commission Vice President Michael Thibodeaux said he did not believe that the removal of the flag would reduce racism or make justice easier to administer at the courthouse.

“Change for the sake of change isn’t always good,” Thibodeaux said.

Nevertheless, Thibodeaux also voted for the flag’s removal, saying he felt that it would be more appropriate to fly the flag in the Confederate section of the nearby Greenwood cemetery, to commemorate the Civil War dead on the Confederate side.

One criminal justice reform advocate who has lobbied for the removal of the flag alongside the faith community in Caddo Parish applauded the news.

“Taking down the flag removes a significant barrier to full participation of the entire community in the administration of justice,” said Sophie Cull, director of the Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “The 11-1 vote also signals the commission’s mandate for equal participation of African Americans in the democratic process.”

Some members of the public testifying at the hearing spoke in favor of keeping the flag where it is.

John David Long said he was “very much upset” by much of the testimony in favor of removing the flag. Long said President Abraham Lincoln did not free slaves in Shreveport, and told the commission that if it had the nerve to “vote against Christian liberty,” he would curse them until the day he dies.

“That monument, that flag up there, is not a representation of racism but of Christian and constitutional liberty,” Long said.

Benton Kelly, a man who said he was in his eighties, said he remembered when the flag was put up.

“The reason for that flag being there is a purpose that is meant for the African Americans and the whites,” Kelly said. “That flag is there to honor the people who lost their lives during the Civil War.”

Another man, Henry Ward, said he is a veteran of wars in Iraq and Bosnia, and that all of his grandfathers fought for America, including his fifth great grandfather, who served in the Confederacy.

“He fought in the army that fought to make this country,” Ward said.

The majority of public testimony at the hearing supported the flag’s removal.

“The Confederate flag is an important part of our history but it does not speak for all people of the ideals of the United States,” said the Rev. Mary Richard.

“It is totally inappropriate in its position where it is now,” said Carl Staples.

“First impressions are important, initial impressions are lasting, and for anyone approaching the courthouse for the first time, they see a symbol that doesn’t strike them as standing for justice for everyone,” said the Rev. Barbara Joel.

You can watch a 26-minute clip of all the public testimony at the hearing by clicking through to The Lens YouTube channel here. Meanwhile, video of the actual commission vote, which came slightly later in the commission hearing, is posted here.

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