Calls renewed to remove Confederate flag from police patch

Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 2:08 PM CDT
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A South Dakota town where an uncle of George Floyd lives is seeing renewed calls to change its police logo that features a U.S. flag alongside a Confederate flag.

Floyd’s uncle Selwyn Jones told the Rapid City Journal that he would like his hometown of Gettysburg, named after the Civil War battle that was a turning point for the Union army in defeating the Confederacy, to change the logo that adorns police cars and officer’s patches. It’s been in place since 2009.

But Gettysburg Mayor Bill Wuttke said he has no plan to change the logo, insisting it has nothing to do with racism and that the logo represents the community’s history. The town was founded by Civil War veterans, mostly from the Union. Local historians say they are aware of only one Confederate veteran who settled there.

Protests over Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have led to a movement to get rid of vestiges of the Confederacy that fought to preserve slavery over 150 years ago. NASCAR on Wednesday banned the flag from its races, and protesters have called for the removal of monuments to Confederate soldiers and slaveholders, sometimes toppling or defacing them.

Activists have called for Gettysburg to change the logo before, such as in 2015 after the shooting deaths of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Jones, who was in Houston this week for Floyd’s funeral, said he thought the current movement could be an impetus for change. He moved to Gettysburg three years ago and operates a hotel there.

The town of 1,200 in central South Dakota near the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation is 94% white, according to U.S. census data.

Floyd died May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after the handcuffed black man stopped moving and pleading for air.

The Confederate flag also has been flown in Rapid City recently by people trying to intimidate Black Lives Matter protesters. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has said the presence of the flag is “disappointing.”

Scott Barksdale, who designed the patch for the Gettysburg Police Department, told the Associated Press in 2015 that the logo is “a way of showing these people put the past behind them.”

But Lynn Hart, who is black and a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, said the racism exhibited by the Confederate flag is still a reality. He pointed out that the Gettysburg Police Department patch is sold on eBay and could be used by racist people to send a message that black people are not welcome in the state.

“Can you imagine being a black person and getting pulled over at night with that flag on an officer’s uniform?” Hart said. “You are going to be scared to death.”