President Barack Obama was greeted with Confederate battle flags as his motorcade pulled up to a hotel in Oklahoma City, Okla. This is the second time he was greeted with Southern battle flags. He and his entourage received the same reception when the president visited Tennessee recently. However, the mini rebel rally in Okla. was unique because it was organized by an African-American man.
Andrew Duncomb, known around his community as “the Black Rebel,” coordinated the group of 10 battle-flag wavers. The group was among several dozen others there to greet the president. Duncomb said he wanted to protest outcries against the rebel flag because he feels it relates to history, and not racism.
“We don’t believe it’s a symbol of racism,” Duncomb said. “They’re blaming the racist problems on the flag and not on the real problems of America.”
Obama, nor anyone in his entourage, spoke out about the rallies which greeted him on his stops. The president, along with some leaders in the Democratic and Republican parties, have stated the Confederate battle flag represents a time in America’s dark past, and should not fly in public places.
“For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now,” Obama recently said while speaking at one of the funerals for a murder victim gunned down by 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof in Charleston, S.C. Roof had a rebel flag as part of his memorabilia collection and featured it in a social network post
as he in which he talked about wanting to initiate a “race war.”
The flag has come under fire ever since the June 17 massacre at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. South Carolina (S.C.) officials removed the flag from state capitol grounds in Columbia last week and put it in a museum. Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, signed legislation to remove the flag. Bipartisan support for the flag’s removal has not stopped those with Confederate battle flags from waving them publicly, even when President Obama comes to town.
The president is in Oklahoma to visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution. He is the first sitting president to step inside a federal prison. Obama wants to look at the medium security prison and its
minimum security satellite camp, and meet with the warden and some prison staff. He will also meet with selected nonviolent offenders. His visit is part of a Vice documentary scheduled to be aired on HBO in the fall. The visit also correlates with the president’s push for overhauls to the criminal justice system.
Obama said too many nonviolent criminals are being held in prisons under excessive sentences. He said conditions within institution
walls also need to improve. The president’s overall goals regarding criminal justice reform include reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders, making the transition back to society easier for convicts, reducing prison overcrowding, limiting solitary confinement and cracking down on inmate rape.
Obama said reforming the criminal justice system is something he has considered for some time, and that he
feels the sentences of those convicted of nonviolent drug crimes is “completely out of proportion with the crime.” He said incarcerating these offenders costs taxpayers money and drains communities of young men. That affects local neighborhoods negatively, the president said.
The president initiated his first changes to the system when he commuted sentences for 46 prisoners the week of July 13. Obama also gave a speech in which he called
for legislation for an overhaul of the correctional system by the end of the year. His goals are gaining some traction, even among Republicans. Senators Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah and John Cornyn of Texas are part of a bipartisan group creating legislation. Even Koch Industries, well known for the contributions of billionaire brothers David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch to conservative Republican causes, is working with liberal groups to advocate change.
The president may not have the ear of every Oklahoman regarding changing the correctional system. Those who greeted President Obama with Confederate battle flags said they are concerned with officials overstepping their authority against the wishes of the American people.
By Melody Dareing
New York Times: Obama, in Oklahoma, Will Focus on Overhaul of Criminal Justice System
The Hill: Confederate flags greet Obama in Oklahoma
ABC News: Confederate Flag Wavers Greet President Obama in Oklahoma
Photo Courtesy of J. Stephen Conn’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License