Ridgewood resident John Carroll with the remnants of the flag protestors burned on Wednesday night.
Protestors made good on their vow to burn an American flag on Wednesday in protest of racial violence, albeit not precisely as planned. After a Facebook event for the burning garnered widespread media attention and scores of protestors at the designated site, demonstrators moved the burning to the top of the park, torching one flag away from the crowds before scattering.
Ridgewood, Queens resident John Carroll said he happened upon 4 or 5 masked twenty-something’s burning the flag near the Ship Martyr’s Monument, up a small hill from where the burning was scheduled to take place.
“I saw smoke from down there, and I thought it would be too late,” he said. “When I got here I was shocked to see so much of the red, white and blue. So I reached in, took it out, and that’s when they ran.”
The burning was organized by group DISARM NYPD, which describes itself on its website as a campaign to “make sure the police force in NYC no longer have arms”. The event swiftly gained attention after it was posted as an event on Facebook, generating news reports and condemning statements from elected officials such as Borough President Eric Adams. The goal of the event, according to the Facebook page, was to “demonstrate for the Charleston nine and all of those killed by racist violence in America”, referencing the fatal shootings last month of nine Africa-Americans at a church in Charleston by a young white man with apparent ties to white supremacist groups. DISARM NYPD would demonstrate against the “racist violence”, the event site said, by setting “fire to this symbol of oppression.”
The event comes after a renewed debate over the Confederate flag and its place at the South Carolina capitol in light of the recent shootings. The shooter, Dylann Roof, posted pictures on social media with the Confederate flag.
Ahead of the scheduled burning on Wednesday, a varied crowd of protestors descended on the scheduled burning site at the intersection of Myrtle and Washington Park, including numerous members of local motorcycle clubs. Many of the protestors questioned the link between the American flag and racial injustice.
“Flags are put on military caskets,” said one club motorcycle club member, Joe, who would not give his last name. “Take this out on politicians, not the flag. The flag has nothing to do with it.”
Sheepshead Bay resident Diane Atkins, whose nephew will be joining the Marine Corps in two weeks, came with handfuls of American flags from her home to disperse in protest of the burning.
“I think it’s a disgrace that anyone would think it’s acceptable to burn this symbol of what the country stands for,” she said. “If you think there’s issues with the system there’s ways to address them, not by burning the symbol that people have died for centuries over, to give people the right to even think of doing something like this.”
“If anyone tries to burn these flags, I’ll knock you out,” she added as she passed out her flags.
Fort Greene resident Mike Maloney, dressed in flag shirt and shorts, and whose pit bull, Dakota, sported a flag leash, also questioned the rationale behind the flag burning.
“This flag stands for so much more than what these people are angry about,” he said. “I agree with a lot of gripes people have about the country, but there’s a way to go about it, a way to peacefully protest and legislate, and burning a flag isn’t it.”
Queens resident Joe Concannon, currently running for City council, said Mayor de Blasio should have played a more active role in deterring protestors.
“Where’s the mayor?” he said. “Why isn’t he telling people, ‘What are you doing this for?’”
At around 7:45 p.m., as it increasingly seemed the protestors would not show, a plume of smoke emerged from the top of the park, near the Prison Ship Marty’s Monument. Reporters, flag-burning protestors and bemused on-lookers alike sprinted up to the smoke, however when crowds had made it up the hill, all that remained were a few embers, and Carroll clutching the charred remnants of a flag.