Greenfield police sergeant criticized for hanging Confederate flag in garage

Last modified: 12/4/2015 9:54:55 PM
GREENFIELD — A Greenfield police sergeant who is his department’s liaison on the town Human Rights Commission is being criticized for hanging a Confederate flag on the rear interior wall of his garage on Shelburne Road. The flag can be seen by passersby when the overhead door is open.

Many Facebook posts have called Sgt. Daniel McCarthy “hateful” and “trouble,” while calling what he has done as “beyond troubling” and “horrific.”

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh said Monday it is premature for him to comment on the issue, which was brought to his attention this past weekend. He said he hopes to speak with McCarthy’s neighbors, Rod and Lindel Hart, fathers of Hugh Hart, a 10-year-old black child who has expressed fear after seeing the flag.

Mayor William Martin said he discussed the issue with the police chief on Monday afternoon.

“We’re still looking into it,” said Martin. “We did agree, though, that the chief will discuss the department’s code of conduct with Sgt. McCarthy. The code says that no behavior should reflect badly on the department or town as a whole. I would say something like this does.”

Martin said he plans to contact the Harts and their son. He said it is very possible the flag, in accordance with the code of conduct, will be taken down shortly — or at least removed from public view.

“This is not an image we want to portray for Greenfield or its police department,” said Martin.

People began posting on Facebook the evening of Nov. 28, shortly after Rod Hart posted the following at 3:45 p.m. that day.

“Hugh has become increasingly aware of police antagonism against young black males and is understandably worried. We have had a few nightmares, some terrified comments and even a wish for Santa to bring him white skin that he can wear outside so he won’t get shot.”

Hart continues his post by saying he and his husband have always convinced their son that he is safe in Greenfield, and that its police department is a “benevolent brotherhood of peacekeepers.”

“It seems our next-door neighbor, officer McCarthy, has chosen to display an enormous Confederate flag in his garage, which is easily viewable from the street when his garage is open.”

While Rod and Lindel have said everyone is entitled to free speech, and they defend that, they say that they now have to convince their 10-year-old son that his neighbor is not a “racist, redneck cop.”

They said they can’t believe that in 2015 in Massachusetts there is a police officer who believes it is acceptable to hang a Confederate flag, which can be visible to passersby, knowing a 10-year-old black boy lives in the neighborhood.

“I can no longer make excuses for the police or try to convince my son that they are not a hateful, racist brotherhood, when our neighbor acts this way,” said Rod Hart.

Lindel Hart said he would love to know why McCarthy is displaying the flag and what it means to him.

“Yes, it is part of American history,” said Lindel Hart. “I fully appreciate that it existed for four years, more than 160 years ago, when slavery was so important to some, when some people treated humans as property. The flag symbolizes that.”

He said he was in disbelief when he learned that McCarthy is the local police liaison to the town’s Human Rights Commission.

Haigh said he has had a couple of conversations with McCarthy and plans to have more.

“I’m not taking this lightly,” said Haigh. “I take it very seriously. I respect people’s opinions, and certainly understand the concerns.”

Haigh said he will have more to say on the matter once he has finished his conversations with McCarthy and spoken with the Harts.

According to Greenfield assessor records, McCarthy and his wife own the property at 85 Shelburne Road, and currently live around the corner on Woodard Road. There is a finished garage on the Shelburne Road property, and it appears McCarthy is building a home there.

According to the town website, McCarthy, who is the son of former Greenfield Police Chief David McCarthy, has been a full-time officer with the local department since 1992. He was promoted to sergeant in 2001 and was assigned the department’s Detective Bureau commander in 2011. He is a member of the department’s bicycle unit and special response team. He became a provisional lieutenant for a short time while the department went through transition and Haigh was hired.

Human Rights Commission

Lewis Metaxas, chairman of the town’s Human Rights Commission, learned about the Facebook discussion on Monday and immediately made plans to put the issue on the agenda of the next commission meeting, which will be held Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall.

“I will be contacting the Harts and Dan McCarthy as chairman of the Human Rights Commission,” said Metaxas. “I want to hear details and concerns. I want to, and want the commission to, take a serious look at the matter fairly.”

Metaxas said the meeting will be a forum at which sensitivity, symbols of hate, free speech, civility and more will be discussed.

“We want to hold an open forum to talk about the broader issues,” said Metaxas. “We want to reach all segments of our community and give everyone a chance to speak.”

Town Council President Hillary Hoffman said Monday she hadn’t heard about the issue, but said those who are concerned should contact their precinct councilors. She said people should also attend the Town Council meeting on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. in the studio at Greenfield Community Television. She said people will have the opportunity to speak during the public forum, which is held at the beginning of the meeting.

“I’m encouraged that the Human Rights Commission will have a conversation about this,” said Hoffman.

Precinct 5 Town Councilor Penny Ricketts, who is also a member of the Human Rights Commission, said she hopes to hear from the public.

“I hope this turns into a teaching moment, not angry discussion,” said Ricketts, who is the council’s only black member. “We need to live with each other in this community. We all have very different beliefs. We need to learn to live peacefully.”

Ricketts said everyone has to remember there’s freedom of speech in this country, but would like to understand why anyone would want to hang a Confederate flag.

Meanwhile, Rod Hart has sent a request to the mayor to be appointed to a vacant seat on the commission. He had received more than 150 Facebook “likes” concerning that request by noon on Monday.

Of the 70 comments his original post sparked by Monday at noon, some people expressed their deep concern and regret about what the Harts, especially their son, must endure.

People said they are outraged about the ignorance of someone hanging a flag whose meaning and implication screams “racism.”

“My heart hurts for you,” said one person.

“This is just awful,” said another.

“I’m sickened by this,” said yet another.

Others said the action does not promote any sense of safety in Greenfield and its neighborhoods, while another expressed anger over the incident.

Several people suggested the Harts, along with their son, try to speak to McCarthy in person.

Hart responded, “I’m going to pass.”

One man said the Harts are overreacting and that there is no incident.

“Some of these comments are displaying YOUR intolerance to FREE SPEECH!” the man posted. “Before you take this stupid non-incident and make a determination on a person’s beliefs, let’s all look at what we know of (McCarthy).”

The man concluded, “Also, do some more research on the Confederate flag ... there are MANY different meanings behind the flag and your narrow-minded beliefs show only one. Get stories straight and get all the information BEFORE you come up to a conclusion about a man.”

McCarthy could not be reached for comment on Monday, but one post on Hart’s thread attributed to McCarthy read, “Hatred is not a piece of fabric; it resides in people’s hearts. As a Catholic man, I have no hatred in my heart and try to see the face of God in everyone.”

A woman followed McCarthy’s post with the following.
“So I agree that a piece of fabric itself is not hateful. But, some patterns of fabric have become irrefutable symbols of hate due to their original purpose of representing horrific acts and movements in history.”

She said the Nazi swastika is a prime example.

“While some people seem to think that the pattern of the Confederate flag is cool, it too is an unmistakable symbol of a time when a group of people was treated as if they weren’t even human. Whether intended or not, it sends a universally-understood hateful message,” she wrote.


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