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OpinionEditorial

In Brookhaven, an inflammatory display

Brookhaven Fire Department officials apologized for carrying a

Brookhaven Fire Department officials apologized for carrying a Confederate flag on one of its trucks. Credit: James Carbone

The Mississippi Flag Commission will pick a new design Wednesday for a state flag from five finalists with the state voters getting the final say in a referendum this fall. The commission was created by the state legislature in June after it voted to remove the state flag because of its inflammatory Confederate battle emblem, known as the “Southern Cross.”

South Carolina was the last state to fly a full Confederate flag on state grounds. And when former Gov. Nikki Haley spoke at the Republican National Convention last week, she chose not to even name the flag she had removed after the racially motivated murder of nine Black parishioners in their church in Charleston, saying: “Together we made the hard choices needed to heal, and removed a divisive symbol peacefully and respectfully.”

If the question of whether displaying the Confederate flag is inflammatory hate speech has been settled in the affirmative by Mississippi and South Carolina, that reality ought to be clear on Long Island, too.

But last week, it wasn’t.

Over the weekend, a photograph of a Brookhaven Fire Department ladder truck draped with a large Confederate flag went viral after being posted on Facebook. The reaction was immediate, with the majority of commenters furious and a sizable minority pooh-poohing the outcry.

Right is on the side of the furious, and the department’s statement of apology was weak, vague, and hard to believe. In a letter posted on Facebook, Chief of Department Peter Di Pinto Jr. said the leadership team had no knowledge of the action and condemned it. He added, “The strength of our community has always been its diversity and our department has always sought to be inclusive. We can assure our community that ‘Racism has no place in our Firehouse.’”

They should assure the community of that, but they certainly have not yet.

The firefighter who put the flag on the truck reportedly is a recent transfer to the Brookhaven department. His previous firehouse had a competition team called the “Rebels” and that is supposedly why he felt the flag was appropriate. The best way to show the department that racism is not tolerated would be the dismissal of this member.

The truck took part in a parade of vehicles in Patchogue to honor a local legend of a firefighter, village employee and an official of firefighting skills contests who has cancer. Instead it dishonored the department he loves. The display was either intentionally racist or ignorant, and neither is excusable. The fire truck is paid for by taxpayers of all colors. That’s why probes into what happened by the state and county human rights commissions are needed to assess and address the culture in that department, and to send a message to Long Island that such behavior won’t be tolerated. While it’s one person who is being blamed for putting the flag on the truck, the fact that no one else involved objected is inexcusable.

— The editorial board

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