Editorial: A flag sends wrong signals

Last modified: 12/3/2015 6:08:00 PM
The Confederate flag continues to be inflame questions about its meaning and about race some 150 years after it was the symbol of slavery and Southern secession that prompted America’s bloody Civil War.

Now, a member of the Greenfield Police Department has found himself caught up in the tug of war between First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution and the public perceptions created by those who continue to display the stars and bars of the former Confederate states.

Police Sgt. Daniel McCarthy, who lives in Greenfield, has had such a flag hanging in his garage, a decision that has left some residents of the neighborhood and others in town dismayed and calling into question his motives for having such a divisive emblem, let alone displaying it in a place where the public could see it. These are questions that right now are missing answers since McCarthy has not publicly responded, leaving the door wide open for conjecture on the part of the public.

At the very least it seems to demonstrate an insensitivity about what this flag continues to stand for in the eyes of so many Americans, black or white. Less than six month ago, the Confederate flag was thrust into the national spotlight following the Charleston church shootings and the removal of the flag from above the South Carolina statehouse. But even the growing knowledge that the flag is seen as symbol of hatred and not one of heritage hasn’t reduced the debate over its display.

In Greenfield, this becomes even more complex given that McCarthy is a long-time member of the town police force and, as it turns out, his department’s liaison to the Greenfield Human Rights Commission. What might be seen as a private matter, then, isn’t one, given the role the police serve in the community, which includes respecting human rights. And this is where the department’s own code of conduct comes into play.

Mayor William Martin and police Chief Robert Haigh are taking all of this seriously. “The code says that no behavior should reflect badly on the department or town as a whole,” Martin said. “I would say something like this does. This is not an image we want to portray for Greenfield or its police department.”

Right now that portrait, which McCarthy has painted of himself and the town isn’t a good one. McCarthy has the right to his beliefs, and to speak up about his intentions. But out of respect to his public duty and to his neighbors — who include a young African American boy — he should take down the flag.


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