August 18, 2018 10:03:00 PM
JACKSON -- Some Mississippi residents are asking a federal court of appeals to fully consider their arguments that the state flag with the Confederate battle emblem represents white supremacy and sends a message that black people are not welcome.
Several black and white residents of the Gulf Coast city of Ocean Springs filed papers Friday asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments.
The plaintiffs are trying to revive their lawsuit that a U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. dismissed June 19. He said the plaintiffs didn't prove they were treated unequally by the government.
Mississippi has used the same flag since 1894, with the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner. People who voted in a statewide election in 2001 chose to keep the flag. But, several Mississippi cities and counties have stopped flying it in recent years amid criticism that the Confederate emblem is a racist reminder of slavery and segregation. Supporters of the flag say it represents history.
The lawsuit, filed in April, calls the Mississippi flag "racially demeaning and hostile." It claims that by flying the flag, majority-white Ocean Springs engages in "racial steering" to exclude black people, violating the federal Fair Housing Act.
"The City, by its voluntary decision to fly a symbol of white supremacy at City Hall and other City property, is intentionally expressing a preference for white people and 'steering' African-Americans away from Ocean Springs," plaintiffs' attorneys Carlos Moore and Michael T. Scott argue in the papers filed Friday.
They also wrote: "Unlawful racial steering can be accomplished in a variety of non-coercive ways, including as is the case here, through a symbolic expression of racial preference and hostility."
Ocean Springs didn't fly the flag for several years under a previous mayor. After a new mayor took office in July 2017, city officials returned the flag to some municipal buildings.
The Census Bureau says Ocean Springs has nearly 17,700 residents, and about 10 percent are black.
Representing the city of Ocean Springs, attorney Kevin M. Melchi said in court papers in May that the flag lawsuit is "completely frivolous and not brought in good faith, but only to harass, intimidate, and waste precious resources of the City."