Brooklyn Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo attacked an online anarchist group’s plans to ignite American and Confederate flags tonight in a park in her district—an act the radicals intend to protest the murder of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston, S.C. last month and what they called “America’s long history of institutionalized racism and murderous violence against black people.”
Ms. Cumbo, a black Democrat representing a traditionally African-American but swiftly gentrifying swath of the borough, criticized the group “Disarm the NYPD” and its planned 7:30 flag burning in Fort Greene Park in a statement sent to the Observer. She characterized the destruction of the flags as both a gesture of despair and as little different from the methods historically employed by racist groups.
“I am concerned when people that have been on the brutal receiving end of the disease of racism begin to resort to some of the same tactics to express their emotions. The stability of our society is dependent upon those individuals that recognize we are better than that,” she said, calling for original solutions to the problem of racial prejudice. “While I recognize that high levels of emotions have to be channeled, I do not agree with flag burnings because I believe we have the intellectual capacity to come together to dig deep to find unconventional and creative ways to address the systemic issues of racism that have outgrown many of the strategies of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Burning a flag represents a complete loss of hope and I believe that hope is critical to finding new solutions.”
The Facebook page and website for Disarm the NYPD utilizes the imagery of black men who died at the hands of police officers, and the group describes its mission as “combating police violence through direct action in NYC and beyond.” The group has 1,425 Facebook followers and is the host of the “Burn the American Flags” event.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, another black Democrat, also condemned the action. He noted that Fort Greene Park is the resting place of thousands of early Americans who died on prison ships during the Revolutionary War.
“We should not do anything to desecrate the memory of these martyrs,” he said, adding that he understood the roots of the activists’ rage. “I am sympathetic to those protesting institutional racism in our society, but burning the American flag is a fringe act that will do nothing to combat the challenges we face.”
In a message posted on social media yesterday, Disarm the NYPD defended the plan to ignite both the Confederate battle flag and the Stars and Stripes, arguing that both symbolize a national tradition of mistreatment of non-whites.
“We maintain, unwaveringly, that both the Confederate flag, and the American flag are symbols of oppression,” the statement read, noting that the Confederate states existed for just four years. “Between the years of 1776 and 1861, slavery was upheld by the United States of America, not the Confederacy. In the years following the war, Jim Crow, segregation, and the extreme expansion of the prison industrial complex were all upheld by the United States of America, not the Confederacy.”
The group did not immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment sent to an address listed on its website.
Ms. Cumbo seemed to agree with some of the sentiments the anarchist group expressed, if not their methods.
“We have to be honest that centuries of racism that began with the brutal takeover of this nation at the expense of the Native American people coupled with the forced Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade are going to take time, focus, patience and fortitude to overcome,” she said in her statement, even as she called for angry youth to look forward. “It’s time for the next generation of young people to come up with the solutions of tomorrow and I look forward to convening our youth to get to the heart of these issues and to find innovative ways with new tools to address the most important and pressing issues of our time.”
Starting fires on city Parks Department property is illegal, and it is unclear if the protesters will be able to go forward with the incineration. State Senator Martin Golden of Brooklyn and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island, both Republicans, have called on the NYPD to prevent the demonstration.
There has been considerable chatter on social media about possible counter-protests tonight.