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Words from Winterbilt

A flag, the United States and what divides us?

Shannon Bohrer

(10/2015) Demonstrations and protest involving the actions of the police, race and the Confederate flag have been in the news for over a year. However, these events are not new, civil unrest (demonstrations and riots) related to the Confederate flag and race has existed since the civil war. It has been argued that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, slavery and economics. As one history professor told his class, the civil war was over all three. The south wanted the right, from their perspective to continue slavery, for cheap labor and for economics. I am sure that there are individuals that would dispute this premise, but they cannot deny the existence of all three.

While the protest and news coverage over the last year continues, the arguments and positions have expanded. The recent controversy over the "Dough Boy" statue and a position that the plaque should be changed is just one event. Would the controversy exist without the continuing news of last year? Another local controversy is the statue of Justice Roger Brook Taney in Frederick. Justice Taney was the Fifth Chief Justice on the Supreme Court, and in his position in the "Dread Scott Case" declared that slaves were property. While both of these local controversies are related to the recent events, maybe individuals and groups had concerns with these issues before all of the news.

Historically, we know that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves during the civil war and that the 13th amendment to the constitution abolished slavery after the civil war. Historically we also know that while free, the racial injustice that existed - still continues in many forms. The police shooting in Ferguson Missouri was just one flash point for this debate. In the Attorney General’s report on Ferguson, the police officer involved in the shooting was exonerated. The report cited facts and physical evidence, including the DNA of the suspect that was found in the police car. The Attorney General’s report said that the "Hands Up" motion that so many protesters still use, did not happen. And, we also know that many people still believe it was not a justified shooting.

Of significance in the Attorney General’s report; is that the city of Ferguson was treating the minority community as a revenue source for funding of the city government, including the police department. The individual cases made and cited in the report were horrific and disgraceful; outlining discrimination and practices that one would think no longer existed. I was in Law Enforcement for 42 years, full time, and I was appalled with what I read. Before reading the report I would never have thought that the discrimination and practices employed and sanctioned by a government entity, existed in this country. I also have to believe that Ferguson did not and does not exist in a vacuum.

We as a country have a long way to go. Life is often not fair, especially when made unfair and sanctioned by a government. While these problems exist, I believe we should be grateful for a Justice Department that investigated the incident and put forth the Ferguson report. What is in the report should be our initial focus in looking for solutions for positive change. The difficulty going forward is somewhat complex in that there are multiple problems. As stated earlier, the confederate flag has become a symbol of the issues with many saying the flag should just go, and others saying its part of their heritage. Arguments for and against are continuing to be made, including additional arguments to replace or remove statues. Banning a flag and/or removing a monument, will not change how people think.

My personal observation is that the confederate flag is obnoxious. The flag represents a no-longer existing government that declared war on the United States. In my travels I have heard individuals say that "The south will rise again" and when I heard this I always thought – is this how uninformed people think? And now with the current issues, I have to think that some people really believe it will rise again. It has been my personal observation that since the election of a half white President, there are more stars and bars being displayed. Hatred is not new, it was not eliminated with the 13th amendment and making laws against it does not change people’s minds. That does not mean we should ignore it.

Since the civil war the confederate flag, or variations of, have been used by government entities, private groups and citizens. The display(s) have often been explained as philosophical and a cultural heritage, while ignoring any racial controversy. Since the most often cited reason is their cultural heritage, what is the heritage?

The heritage of the Confederate flag starts with the fact that it was the symbol for a group of states that declared their independence, while declaring war on the United States. It was – the flag of our enemy. The reason for the declaration of war was addressed in a speech by the Confederate Vice-President, Alexander Stephens; this was after the secession but before the war. The speech was labeled the "Cornerstone Speech" and it expounded the principles of racial superiority and justification of the slavery of blacks. Part of what Stephens said: "Our new government (the confederacy) is founded upon .... its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition." Is that the Heritage that someone should be proud of?

What I also find unusual is when I see the Confederate flag and the United States Flag being flow side by side. While the Confederate flag represents racial inequality and white supremacy, the American flag represents the quote that: "All men are created equal" from our declaration of independence. I am sure that there will always be individuals that believe something different and they want the Confederate flag to mean something else. However, part of the problem is that to most people the Confederate flag has the same meaning as the Nazi flag; racial injustice and racial superiority. In Germany it is illegal to fly the Nazi flag, but the freedoms in this country allow you to fly the confederate flag.

As to the controversy over statues in Frederick County, I believe the statues should remain as they are. If we remove the statue of Chief Justice Taney, do we also re-write history? It was Thomas Jefferson that wrote "All men are created equal" and he owned slaves. Our first president owned slaves, how many statues of him exist? What about Mount Rushmore? The road is long, we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer