Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina remains emotional nearly two weeks after nine African-American churchgoers were gunned down during a Bible study in Charleston in what is being called a hate crime.
The mother of two broke down at times Monday when speaking about the shootings at Emanuel AME Church. Haley had attended funerals for eight of the victims since Thursday.
But Haley’s tears dried when she spoke about the need to move the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. That appears likely after Republican and other S.C. political leaders called for the banner’s removal June 22. The Legislature takes up the issue July 6.
“What is so important for people to understand is that there’s no winners and losers here. I know people who truly respect this Confederate flag. They respect honor. They respect duty. They respect service, and that’s what they want,” Haley told The State Monday. “But when it’s used for hate, I can’t allow anything used for hate to be on the State House grounds and represent all the people of South Carolina. I work for all of the people of South Carolina.”
A week after her historic call for the flag’s removal, Haley spoke to The State in her State House office. Excerpts from the interview:
Do you think you should have called for the flag’s removal before the shooting?
“Over the last four years, my focus was very much on jobs, very much on the economy, strengthening the state. And while the flag had come up here or there, it had come up more in the way with Republicans and Democrats, who had been in the flag debate (in 2000), not wanting to go there again. It was too hurtful. It was too divisive. They didn’t want to revisit (it). And there was always the hurdle of the two-thirds vote (required in the General Assembly). That’s always a tough hurdle to climb. It had come and gone in passing, but truly no serious conversations about the flag.”
How did you handle speaking with lawmakers about the flag, hours ahead of your announcement on June 22?
“I was very conscious of their feelings, and the reason was, I don’t see a right and a wrong here in terms of I choose to believe there are no races that I deal with. That’s just in my world; I choose to believe that. So the people that came in, I had given them the experiences of the last couple of days (after the shooting) and, basically, said, ‘I cannot justify this flag flying. For the good of our state, I think it needs to come down. For the good of those families and for the good of our children, we need to bring the flag down.’
“And then I asked all of them, ‘I’m going to have a 4 o’clock press conference. I would appreciate (it if) you stand with me. And if you don’t stand with me, I will not run against you. I will not call you out on it. I will not go against you on a vote, and I will not tell you were ever at this meeting. If you choose to stand with me, I will be extremely grateful.’ And some stood with me and some didn’t. And I hold no ill will because this was a tough decision in a tight time line. It put a lot of people in a hard spot.”
What did you want to tell the country in the wake of the shooting?
“I knew that we needed to put on a face for this state (for Friday morning national TV interviews), which was that we were hurt and that we were sad, but that we were together. I wanted the country to know that the people of South Carolina love their God, love their country and love their state but, more importantly, they love each other. ... I take great pride in the state, talking about what we build and what we do and tourism and all. The people of South Carolina, I love bragging on them. So, I just didn’t want them to think (the shooting is) who we were.”
Were you worried that the perception of South Carolina changed?
“No, I was concerned about those nine families and that church family and the people of South Carolina. It was so obvious how broken everybody was. Going through Charleston, they were devastated. That was all I could think about, was how was I going to heal the state. I didn’t care about anything else. ... I can’t comprehend what those families are thinking. All I know is that I had to do everything I could to make everybody feel better. And part of that was not just words but action. There was no way I could look my kids in the eye and justify that flag waving. I just couldn’t do it.”
What do you think about the rising chatter that you should be a vice presidential pick in 2016?
“If they’re talking about that, then I need to work harder because I really need their focus to be on the families.”
What do you think of calls to get rid of other Confederate memorials?
“Monuments in themselves are somewhat museums. Flags are considered living and breathing. If they’re flying, they’re living and breathing. That’s the reason why the Confederate flag is something — that if it’s flying — that represents the people, and the State House is supposed to be for all people.”
You won praise for addressing an issue of concern for African-Americans. Can you do more?
“I have always worked really hard to put myself in the other person’s shoes. It is the reason why I am very sensitive to mental health. It is the reason why I am very sensitive to disabilities. It is the reason why I am very sensitive to any form of people who are challenged. ... Anytime I see a wrong, I do try and make it right.
“But I am a person who has a philosophical belief on certain things. It’s a conservative philosophical belief that it’s best for the people to decide the decisions that are around them. Those are engrained.
“What I always will do is keep talking to people and keep listening. I have listened a lot this past week to a lot of different people. I will continue to do that. But my hope is, that not just me, but everybody across the state and across the country continues to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Because I think that if people took the time to put themselves in others’ shoes, they would realize that that flag waving maybe is not that important as they think it is.”
How have you held together attending all the funerals for the shooting victims?
“I didn’t want to go to Paul McCartney (who had a concert in Columbia on Thursday). I had two funerals that day. It was good that I went. Because I love music, and I had stopped listening to music.
“I’m grieving too. It’s something that I never thought would happen in our state. I’m constantly thinking about what I have to do next to make sure that we continue to heal. ... On Thursday (the day after the murders), I needed to give people the OK to cry and the OK to grieve and the OK to pray. On Monday, I had to give them the OK to say, ‘It’s time to bring the flag down.’
“I’ve now got to find a way to tell the people of South Carolina: ‘OK, it’s time to heal.’ And I’ve got to figure out how to do that.”
What would you say to people still angry about the murders?
“The anger is wasted energy. What is important to the people of South Carolina is just because the funerals are over, the grieving is not over. And it’s going to take us a while to get over this.
“This was like a hurricane hit South Carolina. And just like when a hurricane hits, you’ve got to deal with the action and then you have to deal with the recovery. And it takes months to deal with the recovery. It’s going to take us months to deal with this recovery.”
You have spoken about moving forward. Does accused shooter Dylann Roof deserve forgiveness from the death penalty if convicted?
"He absolutely deserves the death penalty. ... There was no mental (health) situation. And there was no anything else. He just killed them. It was pure hate."
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