SC Sheriff Refuses To Lower Flag For Nelson Mandela

10:33 PM, Dec 7, 2013   |    comments
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  • Flowers left by mourners surround a portrait of Nelson Mandela in the Sandton district of Johannesburg on Dec. 6, 2013.(Photo: Carl De Souza, AFP/Getty Images)
  • Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark says the lowering of the American flag to half-staff should be reserved for Americans. / KEN OSBURN/Staff / Greenville News
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  • Eric Connor, The Greenville News  

    The American flag that flies over the Pickens County Sheriff's Office will be raised high tonight despite an order by President Barack Obama that flags across the country be lowered to half-staff to honor the death of iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela.

    Sheriff Rick Clark told The Greenville News that he has ordered the flag be raised at the end of today because he said the honor of lowering flags to half-staff should be reserved for Americans.

    "The flag at half-staff is for Americans' ultimate sacrifice for our country," Clark said. "We should never stray away from that."

    The flag has flown at half-staff and will continue to during daylight hours today in honor of a Lowcountry law enforcement officer who was killed and in honor of Pearl Harbor Day, Clark said.

    However, come tonight, the flag will be raised, he said.

    On Thursday, Obama ordered that flags be flown at half-staff on public grounds until sunset Monday.

    The federal flag code "does not prescribe any penalties for non-compliance nor does it include enforcement provisions" and "functions simply as a guide to be voluntarily followed by civilians and civilian groups," according to a U.S. congressional report commissioned by the U.S. Senate.

    In a proclamation issued Thursday ordering flags at half-staff, Obama said that Mandela "achieved more than could be expected of any man."

    "While we mourn his loss, we will forever honor Nelson Mandela's memory," the president said. "He left behind a South Africa that is free and at peace with itself - a close friend and partner of the United States. And his memory will be kept in the hearts of billions who have been lifted up by the power of his example."

    Mandela is regarded the world over for his leadership in bringing South Africa out of the racial discrimination known as apartheid. Mandela was imprisoned in 1964 for his revolutionary activities and wasn't released until 27 years later.

    In 1994, Mandela was elected president of South Africa and lived a philanthropic life until his death Thursday at the age of 95.

    The order to fly the flag at half-staff to honor a person who wasn't a U.S. citizen isn't unprecedented. In 2005, President George W. Bush ordered flags lowered to half-staff in honor of Pope John Paul II.

    On Friday, Clark posted a message to his Facebook account saying that he wouldn't lower the flag in honor of Mandela, though he said Mandela "did great things for his country and was a brave man."

    The post received hundreds of messages of support and a few expressions of dissension.

    "I think Pickens County is God-loving and military-loving people, and they've just been real supportive," Clark told The News.

    Sheila Crawford, president of the Pickens County chapter of the NAACP, said the sheriff should keep the flag at half-staff as Obama instructed because Mandela was a transformational figure revered the world over.

    "I expect for him to follow proper protocol and fly the flag at half-staff because that's the respect I would like to give Nelson Mandela as a citizen of Pickens County," Crawford said.

    The refusal isn't a commentary on Mandela, Clark said, but rather a statement on what flying a flag at half-staff means for Americans who have died for their country.

    Clark said bestowing that honor on those who aren't U.S. citizens "weakens what it means to that person who has died for the United States of America."

    "I've always liked (Mandela) and been very proud of what he's done," he said, "but it's reserved for Americans, in my opinion."

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