Symbols of Hate

Everyday when I drove to and from work I cringed when I reached the apex of interstates 4 and 75 on the outskirts of Tampa. The reason for my reaction? A Confederate flag the size of a football field flying at that location. As cops, we understand what symbols mean. Gang signs, signature clothing, and tattoos have always been warning signs that we need to treat a situation or individual with more caution. I submit to you that we should add the Confederate battle flag to the list of red flags when assessing individuals for violence. In today’s hyper-charged climate, safety dictates that cops understand that many home-grown hate groups view you as totalitarian enforcers of a government they hate. As a country I believe there is a broader reason to shun this symbol.

I’ve heard all the rationale and excuses surrounding the continued use of the rebel flag. Heritage, Southern Pride, and whatever else people choose to explain the use of that flag, but for me it doesn’t fly. The flag has historically been used as a symbol of hate, no less than the swastika used by the Nazis. It’s no accident that the neo-Nazi’s continue to use that as their preferred symbol. Germany, unlike us, understands the power of such hateful symbols and long ago banned the use of the swastika. When symbols are so closely aligned with hate and massacre, they should be banned. The removal of such vile imagery should not cause any uproar.

So, why, after more than 150 years, do parts of our country continue to cling to the Confederate battle flag? It’s not a question I have an answer to because I really don’t get it. If somebody has a plausible explanation—no, not the BS “heritage” claim—I’d really like to hear it. What if it was a Taliban flag? An Isis flag? Would we be so accepting? We are so quick to judge the symbols of hate, genocide, and tyranny in other cultures—rightly so. But what about us? Are we saying that our home-grown symbols of hate are less offensive? Really? All of these symbols give inspiration and cover to those on the fringes who act out violently, because they are messages of legitimacy. We are all to blame for allowing it.

The fact that the United States Flag is flying at half staff over the South Carolina state house as a sign of grieving, while the Confederate battle flag arrogantly flaps at the top of its pole is a slap in our collective faces as citizens of this country. Have the common decency to take the offensive symbol down while your community grieves. Then commit to a real conversation and reckoning about what it really represents.

No. It is not heritage it is the symbol of hate. It represents taking up arms against our country to preserve some perceived “right” to hate. It represents the enslaving of Black people, and people willing to go to war to defend the institution of slavery. Read your history. Mississippi’s declaration of secession spelled it out in the second sentence: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.” The flag is a symbol of this belief. It is not some benign “aw, shucks” symbol of harmless country folk. The Klan and other hate groups have always used that flag as a symbol of intolerance and violence. No amount of revisionist history to absolve the Confederacy can change any of this. It is a battle flag and the fight was rooted in oppression. Its continued presence in communities and even government buildings, sends a dark message that we have not overcome. The solution is simple. Remove the Confederate flag from all government buildings. Now.

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