Plans to Burn American Flags in Fort Greene Park to Protest Racism Spark Controversy

Fox News devoted much of this morning's coverage to outrage at activists' plans for American flag-burning in Brooklyn tonight.
Fox News devoted much of this morning’s coverage to outrage at activists’ plans for American flag-burning in Brooklyn tonight.

In the wake of the massacre that killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th, hundreds of activists plan to burn American flags and Confederate flags in Fort Greene Park tonight, beginning at 7:30 p.m., in protest of the country’s long and brutal history of racism. Disarm NYPD, the anarchist group that organized the protest, argues that the American flag, like the Confederate flag, is a symbol of racism and oppression.

Plans for the protest have sparked controversy (Fox News, of course, is freaking out) and drawn the ire of both lawmakers and city residents. Mayor de Blasio’s office said Tuesday that it is urging organizers to cancel the event and “find a respectful way to express their opinions.” 

“This protest is a divisive, disrespectful way to express views, and does not reflect the values of our city,” spokeswoman Monica Klein told NBC New York in an email statement. “It’s wrong,” state senator Marty Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn, said. “It’s a wrong message to send to our children, wrong message to send to our communities. Just plain wrong.” Some are especially outraged by the apparent symbolism in the protest’s chosen location, as Fort Greene Park memorializes thousands of revolutionary war heroes who died in captivity aboard British ships with its Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, and others are more offended that it’s taking place in view of the Fourth of July, the country’s most star-spangled weekend.

Disarm NYPD, a group whose stated goals include stripping police of their guns, responded to the criticism on their Facebook page:

We find it a sign of the times that people can care so much about a piece of cloth, while at the same time be so quiet about black churches being burned all over the country. We do not believe the ideals of America are anything to be revered … We dream of what real freedom looks like: freedom from paramilitaries occupying our communities, beating and killing our sons and daughters; freedom from our communities being destroyed by the speculative capital of gentrification; freedom from mass surveillance; and freedom from systemic racism. So, we will burn the American flag, a symbol of oppression and genocide, and in the same action, dismantle our stunted, cynical expectations of what is possible in the world.

Thanks to the First Amendment, it’s perfectly legal to burn American flags in public–but it is illegal to burn them, or anything else, on Parks Department property, since open flames are prohibited. But Disarm NYPD is intent on going ahead with their plan. “No matter what, we intend on burning the flag,” Carlos Cabeza, the group’s 21-year-old media person, told Animal New York, “whether it be outside of the park or not.” 351 people are listed as attending on the event’s Facebook page.

Follow Carey Dunne on Twitter @CareyDunne


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