The South Sudanese community of Philadelphia has postponed a flag-raising ceremony out of respect for the late U.S. journalist Christopher Allen, who was killed in South Sudan last Saturday.
Allen, who grew up outside Philadelphia, was embedded with rebel forces when he was shot and killed by government soldiers during a battle near the Uganda border. The government said he was fighting on the side of the rebels; a rebel spokesman said Allen carried only a camera.
The Philadelphia mayor’s office was set to raise South Sudan’s flag at City Hall on September 8 during an event to honor the achievements of the South Sudanese community and their contributions to the city. Sudanese-born Luol Deng, a wo-time National Basketball Association All-Star, contributed money for the event.
A community leader, James Deng (no relation to Luol), said the celebration would be inappropriate at a time when Allen’s family and friends are grieving.
“As South Sudanese and as someone who came to this area, we do not agree with what happened,” Deng told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. “We basically as a community condemn in the strongest terms the killing of this young man, and we send our deepest thoughts and prayers to his family as they go through this difficult time.
“If we had gone ahead with the event, we wouldn’t have gotten a positive message out of this, because we are raising a flag for the country connected with the killing of this young journalist. And so this would have put us in a really bad spotlight.”
Former ‘Lost Boy’
Deng said he had benefited from what he described as Philadelphia’s welcoming environment.
The former Lost Boy of Sudan arrived in Philadelphia in 2000 after the civil war in Sudan forced him to flee as a young boy.
He graduated from Millersville University of Pennsylvania with an undergraduate degree and from Wilmington University in Delaware, where he earned a master’s degree in business administration.
As a tax compliance analyst for the Department of Revenue for the city of Philadelphia, Deng said he was happy to give back to the city that gave him a chance to build his life.
He said the flag-raising ceremony, when it happens, will be a way to recognize the efforts of the South Sudanese diaspora, and at the same time thank the city for welcoming so many people from the country, many of whom arrived in the United States as refugees.
Tributes highlighting Allen’s courage and work in South Sudan and Ukraine have poured in since he was killed August 26.
Deng said he was in awe of the work performed by Allen and other journalists, who are willing to risk their lives to tell important stories around the world.
“He came to bring our story or cover our story and he was wearing the press jacket, and I think journalists have been killed in South Sudan before. … They should be able to protect them and not kill them,” Deng said.
The South Sudanese community of Philadelphia has yet to announce a new date for the flag raising, saying it will happen when the time is appropriate.