A Michigan police officer has resigned after being suspended for flying a Confederate flag from his pickup truck at a rally protesting the election of Donald Trump.
Officer Michael Peters, an 18-year law-enforcement veteran, was seen flying the flag on Veterans Day during a “Love Trumps Hate” rally in Traverse City, Mich., three days after Trump’s presidential win, according to the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
The Traverse City Police Department launched an internal investigation into what Police Chief Jeffrey O’Brien called a “reprehensible” incident.
“I met with him this morning and I think he understands the ramifications of his actions,” O’Brien told reporters during a Monday news conference. “I’m not here to judge him; we have a process that we have to go through and we have to allow that process to be implemented. I’m asking everybody in the community to just be patient and let us do our job.”
O’Brien said Peters, who is also facing a criminal investigation, was suspended with pay during the department’s investigation.
Hours later, the officer submitted his resignation, Traverse City Manager Marty Colburn told the Associated Press.
Peters, Colburn said, apologized “for the stain he put on the city” and its police department. His behavior remains under investigation, Colburn said.
Marshall Collins, a black rally-goer, told CBS affiliate WWTV that he was with a group at the anti-Trump protest Friday night when he saw Peters pull up and rev his engine, with a Confederate flag waving from the back of his truck.
The Associated Press reported that Peters, who was off-duty at the time, parked near the rally and started drinking a beer.
“He is a role model and that’s what he should be displaying here,” Collins told WWTV.
“My confrontation was why you would bring that here, knowing what that stands for,” Collins told the news station. “Why would you bring that here? The fear that that flag instills in me, the fear that that flag has put in me and other people like me, why would you choose to display that?”
Collins said that “to see him, knowing that he’s a cop, knowing that he’s out there to protect and serve, knowing that I have to look over my back for someone like that in our community and our department, it scares me, and it scares my family.”
O’Brien, the police chief, said that any officer should understand that he lives in “a glass house.”
The Confederate battle flag “is one of the most controversial symbols from U.S. history,” the Southern Poverty Law Center notes. “To many white Southerners, the flag is an emblem of regional heritage and pride. But to others, it has a starkly different meaning — representing racism, slavery and the country’s long history of oppression of African Americans.”
The SPLC adds that “it’s difficult to make the case today that the Confederate flag is not a racist symbol. After being used sparingly for decades, it began appearing frequently in the 1950s and 1960s as white Southerners resisted efforts to dismantle Jim Crow segregation. It began to fly over state capitols and city halls across the region. Elements of it were also incorporated into several state flags. Worst of all, it became a mainstay at Ku Klux Klan rallies as the organization launched a campaign of bombings, murders and other violence against African Americans and civil rights activists.”
The flag has long been the focus of debate in Southern states, a highly emotional conversation that began anew last year following a racially motivated massacre in a black church in Charleston, S.C.
Subsequent images of the alleged gunman, Dylann Roof, holding the battle flag set off a bitter debate over the flag’s symbolic role — and its place on the grounds of the South Carolina State House. In one high-profile gesture, an activist climbed atop the flagpole on the statehouse grounds in Columbia, S.C., and removed the flag; she was arrested and the flag was replaced.
Gov. Nikki Haley (R) eventually signed legislation to permanently remove the flag, which had flown over the capitol’s dome or on its grounds for 54 years.
“In South Carolina, we honor tradition, we honor history, we honor heritage — but there’s a place for that flag, and that flag needs to be in a museum, where we will continue to make sure people will honor it appropriately,” Haley said last year. “But the statehouse, that’s an area that belongs to everyone. And no one should drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.”
The flag incident in Traverse City came amid nationwide tension over the election results and reports that Trump supporters have been harassing religious and ethnic minorities across the country.
A black student at Baylor University said she was shoved by a white male while walking to class on the morning after the election. Her assailant, a fellow student, told her “no n — s allowed on the sidewalk,” she said — then echoed Trump’s campaign slogan, declaring: “I’m just trying to make America great again.”
Days later, a University of Michigan student was approached by a stranger who threatened to set her on fire if she didn’t remove her hijab, campus police said.
At a high school in Pennsylvania, two students paraded through the hallways with a Trump sign as one student shouted, “white power!” — a moment that was captured on video.
On Saturday, an Episcopal church in Silver Spring was vandalized with a chilling message: “Trump nation. Whites only.”
In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast Sunday night, Trump said that he was “so saddened to hear” that people were harassing others in his name. “And I say, ‘Stop it,’” Trump said. “If it — if it helps, I will say this, and I will say it right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.’”
O’Brien, the police chief, said he received about 100 emails from people demanding the officer’s termination, according to the Record-Eagle.
“To All Citizens, I hear you!” O’Brien said Sunday in a statement, promising an investigation. “Our uniform patch is embroidered with an image of the Flag of The United States. The inscription states: We pledge allegiance to the flag. The members of the Traverse City Police Department have sworn an oath and will uphold the Constitution of the United States.”
He emphasized that the officer had due process under the Constitution and said, “that process is sometimes slow.”
“We will get through this,” O’Brien told the Record-Eagle. “The community will get through this.”
After speaking with Peters on Monday morning, O’Brien said he believed that the officer “understands the seriousness of what he’s done,” though the chief did not elaborate on their conversation.
O’Brien said he does not believe the Confederate flag should be flown; he added that Peters had displayed it on city property in the past and had been “talked to” about it.
“I’ve made my statement very clear that I do not condone Officer Peter’s actions at all,” he said. “This is not reflective of our department. Please understand this. There’s 28 other officers that work there that are not like this.”
This story, originally published on Nov. 14, has been updated.