After an activist named Bree Newsome scaled a flagpole this weekend at the Charleston, S.C. statehouse to take down its Confederate battle flag, she’s turned into a social media trending star, backed by the support of famous filmmakers, strangers on the Internet and even members of the government. Newsome also faces thousands of dollars in fines and some serous jail time.
Newsome, 30, was arrested after removing the Civil War-era flag in the aftermath of a racially motivated church shooting in Charleston earlier this month that left nine black people dead at the hands of a white gunman. “Authorities said she continued climbing the more than 30-foot-tall flagpole and unhooked the flag, ignoring orders from officers who arrived when she was about halfway up,” according to the Baltimore Sun.
The paper notes that Newsome and a friend, James Tyson, have both been charged with “defacing monuments on the Capitol grounds,” a misdemeanor that carries a $5,000 penalty each and a possible prison term of up to three years.
Is the price of her headline-grabbing activism worth it? It’s yet another example of how doing the right thing comes at a steep price.
How Much Does Civil Disobedience Really Cost?
Newsome’s flag removing isn’t the first time a protestor or activist has been charged as a criminal in the name of human rights.
Last year, a 20-year-old college student named Duncan Tarr protested a pipeline project by chaining himself to a truck used in the construction. According to NPR, the Michigan State University undergrad was charged with trespassing and now owes more than $39,000 in restitution fees.
Another young college sophomore was wrongfully implicated in a burglary, kidnapping and several other criminal charges after calling police to report the discovery of a dead body. Though the student, Lewis James Little, was cleared of the charges, he was initially jailed on a $1.425 million bond, and suffers difficulty finding housing and employment from the ordeal, according to WRAL.com.
“I called the police – when none of the other guys were even thinking about it – trying to do the right thing, and it pretty much started from there,” Lewis told the network.
Last November, a 75-year-old activist in Schuyler County, NY was arrested for trespassing while protesting at an area gas storage facility, according to WENY.com. A judge later ordered the man, Dwain Wilder, to pay a $250 fine or spend 15 days behind bars. Wilder opted for jail time.
Expensive for Law Enforcement
The costs go both ways. Following the shooting of Michael Brown, a black man, by white police officers in Ferguson, MO last year, officials have paid the price for the ensuing riots and protests across the nation.
According to KOMO News, reactionary protests in Seattle, WA late last year cost the city’s police force more than $585,970 to cover officer overtime, ranging from $202 to more than $156,000 on a single day.
The National Journal reported that in Missouri, state officials had spent an estimated $11.7 million employing National Guard and Highway Patrol, according to figures from the state Office of Budget and Planning. And in New York City, authorities spent more than $22.9 million in law enforcement overtime last year to control protests over police brutality in the chokehold death of a Staten Island man, reported the New York Daily News last December.
Will Bree Newsome’s Support Offset Financial Burden?
Since Newsome’s arrest, #FreeBree and #keepitdown have become the leading trending hashtags on social media this weekend. Newsome even has celebrity backing; according to Tom Cleary of Heavy.com, in a tweet yesterday, filmmaker Michael Moore offered to pay Newsome’s bail money and legal fees. Vanity Fair also reported that director Ava DuVernay expressed interest in making a film about Newsome, coining her a “black superhero.” The Rev. Jesse Jackson also took to Twitter to voice his support.
As of this story’s publication, a funding campaign called “Bail for Bree Newsome” has garnered more than $100,000 in online donations this weekend, according to Indie GoGo.
Newsome’s activism may come at steep legal, personal and financial costs, but it may pay off in the end. According to Libby Nelson of Vox, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has gone on record stating that the Confederate flag should be removed for good, but the soonest state legislature vote won’t be until July 6 – a two-thirds majority is needed.
In South Carolina, writes Nelson, “the flag has flown over the statehouse since 1962, when it was put up as a symbol of resistance to racial integration.”
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Bree Newsome Faces Jail Time and $5,000 Fine Following Act of Civil Disobedience