Let’s be clear about something, Jose “Joe” Torres and Kayla Norton are not being sent to jail for waving Confederate battle flags in the face of an African-American family celebrating a birthday just weeks after the Charleston murders in the summer of 2015. According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution:
Norton will be sentenced on one count of violating the street gang act and one count of making terroristic threats. Torres will be sentenced on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, one count of terroristic threats and one count of violating the street gang act. The aggravated assault charges carry up to 20 years for each count and the street gang act carries between five and 20 years, said Emadi. A terroristic threat conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison.
In other words, displaying the Confederate battle flag alone would not result in the sentences handed out yesterday, but it is certainly not incidental to the story. In fact, it is central. As I suggested yesterday, it is no accident that the flag was brought along on this little joy ride intended to defend the meaning of the flag in the wake of Charleston and the debates about its display in Columbia and elsewhere.
In this case the flag sent an unmistakable message to this Douglas County family. The flag was essential to this violent act. According to the judge the defendants engaged in a “terroristic threat.” The weapons involved, verbal threats, and flags all worked together to frame this violent act.
You can shout “Heritage, Not Hate” until you are blue in the face, but there is little that one can do to deny that the Confederate battle flag is wrapped up in the history of racial violence and white supremacy stretching all the way back to the Civil War. It was there as a symbol of “massive resistance” during the civil rights movement. It was there in Mississippi in 1920 when a young Will Echols was brutally lynched. And it was there in the summer of 1863 as Robert E. Lee’s army moved into Pennsylvania hoping to round up as many fugitive slaves as possible and send them back into slavery.
This is the heritage of the Confederate battle flag.