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Mississippi Legislature Votes to Remove Confederate Symbol From State Flag

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Mississippi State Flag at the Capitol in Jackson on Thursday, via Rogelio V. Solis & Associated Press
  • Mississippi is one step closer to changing its state flag, which prominently features the Confederate Battle Flag.
  • On Sunday, the legislature voted in favor of a bill that would remove the emblem. The bill is expected to be signed by the Governor in the coming days.
  • Mississippi will design a new flag for voters to decide on in November.
  • However, Mississippi is not the last state with a flag design that draws heavy inspiration from the Confederacy.

Confederate Flag Change

In a landslide vote on Sunday, the Mississippi legislature agreed to change the state’s flag and remove Confederate imagery. The bill is currently on Governor Tate Reeves’ desk, where it is expected to be signed after the Republican governor made it clear that he would sign any bill that changed the flag.

This is the latest event in a long-running cultural shift regarding figures and symbolism from the breakaway state. Since 2010, there has been increasing support to remove statues of Confederate figures. Particularly because many of these statues weren’t built during the Confederacy, but decades afterwards in the 20th century and Civil Rights era to glorify people who are widely considered racist.

Mississippi’s new bill tackles the same debate from another angle. Mississippi in particular has been fighting over the Confederate symbols within their flag for nearly two decades. Their state flag was adopted in 1894 and clearly features what a lot of people call the Confederate Flag. While that symbol was eventually put on later versions of the official Confederate National flag, it didn’t start out like that. It was originally the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Although Mississippi’s soon-to-be old flag is also influenced by the first national flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars.

The first National Flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars

The recent move to change Mississippi’s flag was relatively quick. On June 9, 2020, Mississippi Today reported that lawmakers were starting efforts to draft legislation and gather support for a change. Republican Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn said if his party could get the support of 40 Republican lawmakers, along with the 45 House Democrats, he’d move to suspend House rules and allow for a bill to change the flag to be introduced. 

Nearly twenty days later on June 27, the House passed Concurrent Resolution 79, which suspended rules in the legislative chambers in order to vote and debate on the flag bill. Later that day the Senate followed suit, and debate over changing the flag officially began.

By the next day, House Bill 1796 was passed by the House in a 91-23 vote and in the Senate by 37-14. The bill would require public institutions to remove the state flag within 15-days of the bill being signed.

The bill does more than just remove the current state flag, it also sets up a mechanism to make a new one. The state will set up a commission to design it and it specifically cannot have any Confederate symbolism. It also requires the words “In God We Trust” to be on the flag. Then in November, voters will have a chance to approve the new flag in a referendum.

This isn’t the first time there’s been a push to change the flag. In 2001, there was an attempt to redesign the flag, but 64% of voters said “No” to the change. In 2015, there were multiple attempts after the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, but they all failed to even get out of committee.

Following Sunday’s vote lawmakers like Democratic State Rep. Jeramey Anderson, Moss Point called it “a beautiful moment of unity.”

Following Saturday’s vote that allowed the bill to be introduced, Bertram Hayes-Davis said on CNN the “battle flag has been hijacked” and “does not represent the entire population of Mississippi.”

He continued by saying, “It is historic and heritage-related, there are a lot of people who look at it that way, and God bless them for that heritage. So put it in a museum and honor it there or put it in your house, but the flag of Mississippi should represent the entire population, and I am thrilled that we’re finally going to make that change.”

Hayes-Davis is the great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

More to the Confederacy Than Mississippi

With this recent vote, it seems like one of the most prominent symbols of the Confederacy is finally leaving the South; however, it doesn’t mean that the South won’t be without reminders still. While the Battle Flag has been tied to racist and white nationalist groups, the Confederacy had other flags and symbols that are prominently displayed on other state flags.

Looking at Mississippi’s flag, if the only change was that the Battle Flag is removed from the corner, it’d still just be the Stars and Bars with a slight color change. Although the law specifically states that no Confederate symbols be used.

Mississippi is just the tip of the iceberg though, because multiple Southern flags draw inspiration from the Confederacy.

Alabama’s flag is a red and white St. Andrews cross. That cross isn’t racist on its own, even Scotland uses it as their flag, but it’s a prominent feature of the Battle Flag. Their flag was adopted in 1895, and in 1915 there was confusion over whether it was supposed to be a rectangle or a square.

At the time, the director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History interviewed people who were around when the flag was introduced. He concluded that the flag was intended to “preserve in permanent form some of the more distinctive features of the Confederate battle flag, particularly the St. Andrew’s Cross.”

From that finding, he noted the flag was to be square like the original Battle Flag. In 1987 the state finally changed it to a rectangle.

Florida also prominently features a St. Andrew’s cross, although there is debate over whether its cross is supposed to be a callback to the Confederacy. The flag was adopted in 1900 by their then-governor who served in the Confederate army. It might just be a coincidence that it was adopted during a time where Jim Crow laws were being instituted.

There’s another possibility, though; Florida’s flag may be a callback to the flag of the Vice-royalty of New Spain, which included Florida when the Spanish colonized it.

The flag of the Vice-royalty of New Spain

Another flag with controversial symbolism is Arkansas. It was adopted in 1913 and features a motif that riffs on the colors of the battle flag. The three stars below the state’s name represent France, Spain, and the U.S.

The star on top of the word “Arkansas” represents the Confederacy, but it’s not from the original design. It was added later in the 1920s and reaffirmed by a 1987 signed by then-Governor Bill Clinton.

Tennessee’s may look like it’s inspired by the Battle Flag, with its similar coloration, but there isn’t much historical evidence to suggest that it is based on Confederate symbolism.

North Carolina’s flag is very similar to the flag they adopted after seceding from the Union and was an intentional callback when it was adopted in 1885. It later had its proportions altered in 1991.

North Carolina’s Civil War-era flag, from 1861 to 1885.

Finally, there’s Georgia’s flag. The flag is just the Stars and Bars with the state’s emblem in the corner. Unlike many of the other flags listed, Georgia’s flag is recent, designed in 2003. Before then, the state’s flag, which was adopted in 1956, had a Battle Flag that put Mississippi’s to shame. It took up over two-thirds of the flag.

Georgia’s Flag from 1956-2001. It was adopted to feature Confederate symbolism during the Civil Rights era.

In 2001 the state decided the flag needed to be changed, so they made a new one that featured all of its older flags. In a 2001 survey that ranked all U.S. State and Canadian Provincial flag designs by the North American Vexillological Association, it ranked dead last.

After public outrage, in 2004 the current flag beat the 2001 version in a referendum where over 70% of voters preferred the Stars and Bars.

While the Battle Flag has clear ties to extremist and racist groups, these other symbols of the Confederacy are often ignored.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNN) (CBSNews) (Washington Post)

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Ohio Police Fatally Shoot Black Teenage Girl

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  • Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer Tuesday afternoon.
  • Police released body camera footage that appears to show Bryant lunging at two other women with a knife before the officer opened fire.
  • Members of Bryant’s family disputed parts of the police department’s version of events, including Bryant’s aunt, who said the teen called police and was trying to defend herself from people who had come to her foster and threatened her with physical assault.
  • The incident came just before a Minnesota jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, exacerbating frustrations over repeated police killings of Black people in America.  

Ma’Khia Bryant Shot by Police

Columbus police shot and killed a Black teenage girl Tuesday, shortly before the verdict against Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, adding tension to existing conversations about excessive use of force from police against Black people.

The girl was identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a spokesperson for Franklin County Children’s Services, who said she had been in foster care. 

During a news conference late Tuesday night, Columbus police said the shooting happened after they received a 911 call around 4:30 from someone who said that women were trying to stab them before hanging up.

The law enforcement officials also played segments of body camera footage from the officer who fired the shots, which they said showed the victim lunging at two others with a knife.

In the graphic video, the officer is seen getting out of his car as Bryant appears to chase someone who falls onto the sidewalk. She then lunges at another person, and the officer yells “get down” three times before quickly firing at least four shots at the teenager.

Bryant collapses on the ground, and the bodycam video shows a knife next to her as officers attempt CPR. People at the scene immediately start screaming, and one man can be heard yelling, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”

“She had a knife,” the officer responds. “She just went at her.”

Police officials said Bryant was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Notably, they did not identify the officer who shot her, though they did say he would be pulled off patrol duty while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an inquiry.

Some of Bryant’s family members contradicted elements of the police report. Her aunt, Hazel Bryant, told The Daily Beast that adult women had come to the foster home and started an altercation with her niece, who called the police.

Hazel claimed that Ma’Khia grabbed the knife to defend herself and was fending off a physical assault when the police arrived. She also told a local outlet that the teenager had dropped the knife before she was shot, but the slow-motion capture of the video shown by the police appears to show the knife in her hand at the time.

Protests & Response

According to local reports, shortly after the shooting, a group of roughly 60 people gathered at the site to demonstrate but dispersed around 10 p.m. Others protesters also took the streets of downtown, with many gathering in front of the Columbus Police Department headquarters.

The shooting quickly sparked a widespread response on social media and #MKhiaBryant became a trending Twitter hashtag. Many argued that the shooting, which coincided so closely with the Chauvin verdict, shows that single instances of police accountability do not change systemic problems.

“The emotional contrast between the #DerekChauvinVerdict and the killing of #MaKhiaBryant is exactly why we must not use small wins to justify the end of large fights!” tweeted Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “We must stay steadfast in our pursuit of #PoliceAccountability WE NEED #PoliceReformNOW”

Other users also condemned the officer for immediately shooting Bryant instead of trying to de-escalate the situation or use other tactics like a Taser. Some asserted that if police can arrest white men who commit mass shootings without killing them, they can do the same for a Black teenager with a knife.

“In a world where the police can safely apprehend white male mass shooters. I would really like to know why a trained police officer assumed that the only way to deescalate a fight, where a 16 year old black girl had a knife, was to immediately shoot her dead,” one user wrote.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Daily Beast) (The Columbus Dispatch)

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USDA Extends Free Meals for All Students Through June 2022

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  • The U.S Department of Agriculture will extend free meals for kids at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
  • The move will bring much-needed relief to families across the country as an estimated 12 million children are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The extension also gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems without having to scramble to process a massive influx of free lunch applications at the start of the year.

USDA Call for Free Lunch Extension

The U.S Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will extend free meals for children at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.

In the early days of COVID-19 last March, the USDA implemented Child Nutrition waivers that cut through barriers to allow kids to eat free even outside of normal school settings and meal times.

Those waivers also allowed schools the flexibility to adapt their own programs to better meet the needs of their families. For instance, they allowed parents to do a curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home, even without the student being present. In many cases, they allowed for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continue to learn virtually part- or full-time.

The USDA even increased the school’s meal reimbursement budgets to allow for healthier options and cover bigger costs that came due to added transportation and labor, as well as pandemic-related supply shortages for to-go boxes, Personal Protective Equipment, and more.

These waivers were only supposed to last until Sept. 30, which left a ton of families uncertain about what to do after that as many continue to struggle financially.

Helps Remove Extra Burdens

Now, the extension will bring much-needed relief to families across the country because according to the USDA, an estimated 12 million kids are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While celebrating more free meals for students, school nutrition groups have also pointed to the fact that this gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems after the surge in need this current school term.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association, the trade group for school food-service manufacturers and professionals, told The Washington Post, “Schools aren’t going to have to scramble to collect applications from families that are eligible.

“At the start of every school year, this is a huge task for administrators to collect and process the applications, a task made bigger because during the pandemic there are more families eligible who may never have applied before.”

It also means fewer “touch points” like keypads that take pin numbers to prove free meal eligibility. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (The Washington Post) (EdSource)

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Chauvin Trial Judge Says Rep. Waters Comments Could Be Grounds for Appeal

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  • Judge Peter Cahill, who is overseeing the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, said on Monday that Rep. Maxine Waters’ (D-Ca.) suggestion that protesters “get more confrontational” if the jury does not return a guilty verdict could be grounds for the case to be appealed.
  • Cahill’s remarks came after Chauvin’s lawyer moved for a mistrial, arguing that  Waters’ comments, made this weekend, amounted to threats and intimidation. Cahill rejected the motion.
  • Republican politicians quickly condemned Waters and claimed she was inciting violence, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), who proposed a measure to censure her.
  • Democrats defended the Congresswoman, arguing she was not encouraging unrest and accused McCarthy of hypocrisy. Others slammed Cahill, arguing he was undermining free speech and pointing to incidents where similar remarks were not considered grounds to appeal a case.

Judge Cahill Admonishes Rep. Waters

The judge overseeing the trial against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, said Monday that comments made by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) over the weekend could be grounds for the entire case to be appealed.

While speaking in Minneapolis on Saturday, Waters said that protesters should “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin is acquitted.

Following closing arguments Monday afternoon, Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, asked for a mistrial, arguing that the Congresswomen’s remarks amounted to threats and intimidation against the jury.

Judge Peter Cahill, who ended every day of testimony by telling jurors “have a good night and don’t watch the news,” dismissed the request, arguing that he believed her remarks would not prejudice the jury, but adding a key caveat.

“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” he said. “I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function.”

Response & Backlash

Immediately, numerous Republicans seized on Cahill’s comments, condemning Waters and accusing her of inciting violence.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), announced on Twitter that he was introducing a resolution to censure Waters.

Many also defended Waters, claiming she was not inciting violence. That includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) who said her colleague was talking “about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement.” 

Others who took to Twitter echoed that, arguing that McCarthy was being a hypocrite because he himself spread false election claims promoted by former President Donald Trump. Those claims would later incite the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Some additionally accused the minority leader of censuring a Black woman for speaking out against violence in her community but refusing to take any action against members of his party. Many specifically flagged Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), who is being investigated for sex trafficking a minor, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who previously posted racist and antisemitic comments on social media and liked posts calling for Pelosi to be assassinated.

Others took direct aim at Judge Cahill, arguing that he was undermining Waters’ right to free speech and that he was the one who warned the jury not to pay attention to the news but did not sequester them from the get-go.

That point was bolstered by some who pointed out previous incidents where similar remarks were not considered grounds to appeal a case.

“If a statement from Maxine Waters can be used as justification to overturn a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin on appeal, then courts are gonna have to go back and revisit every single case where Donald Trump made a comment about pending trials for 4 years when he was in office,” CNN commentator Keith Boykin wrote.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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