Officials in the tiny, rural town of Gettysburg, South Dakota (pop.: perhaps 1,200) say they have no plans to remove Confederate battle flags from the patches worn by the town’s pair of police officers.
The badges featuring Confederate flags also feature American flags and Civil War-era cannons.
The rationale for the flag-festooned badges is that some 200 Civil War veterans founded Gettysburg in 1883. The vets had fought for both the Union and Confederate sides, notes the Grand Forks Herald.
The town of Gettysburg was also named specifically to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg — a clash which resulted in the deaths of 7,863 men in a three-day period. The municipal motto is: “Where the Battle Wasn’t.”
“It was called the soldiers’ colony or the soldiers’ home and it was mostly just to attract other veterans to come out,” Gettysburg official Corey Wannamaker told the Herald. “Because it was founded by soldiers, that would make other soldiers comfortable to come out here.”
Wannamaker serves as Gettysburg’s deputy city finance officer as well as its museum employee.
The kerfuffle over a Confederate flag in South Dakota comes as lawmakers in South Carolina, led by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, have voted to remove the Confederate flag from the state’s capitol grounds. The removal was prompted by Dylann Roof’s racist slaughter of nine people at a black church in Charleston, S.C.
Coincidentally, a man from South Carolina designed the Gettysburg, S.D. police patches.
Gettysburg police chief Bill Wainman — one of the two town constables — said the flag on the badges is not meant to offend or divide.
“It was never intended to be a symbol of racism and isn’t today,” Wainman told the Herald.
The Gettysburg police badges came under fire after a man from Flandreau, S.D. — about 225 miles east — complained on Facebook.
The man, current business owner and former Marine Lynn Hart, said a Gettysburg resident had brought the badges to his attention.
“South Dakota doesn’t need that stuff in our state,” Hart declared, according to Sioux Falls CBS affiliate KELO-TV.
Hart wrote an angry letter to South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard about the badges. Daugaard responded by calling the badges a local issue. Hart then called the governor’s position “b.s.”
Hart also asserted that taxpayers should not pay for small shoulder patches for Gettysburg’s two-person police force.
Wainman, the police chief, reiterated his basic stance to KELO-TV.
“Absolutely no racism whatsoever behind this,” the chief said. “This truly goes to the history of Gettysburg, South Dakota.”
Upon considering the issue last week, the Gettysburg city council unanimously supported keeping the current police badges.
Council members have “no intention” of getting rid of the patch, Wainman told the Herald.
Molly McRoberts, editor of the local newspaper, the Potter County News, speculated that perhaps two dozen people in town had known about the Confederate flags on the two police badges before the Facebook kerfuffle. She was also adamant that racism is not a local problem.