Originally published in Newsday on November 02, 2021.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill on Tuesday that will prohibit police agencies, fire districts, school districts and other municipal corporations from selling or displaying the Confederate flag and other symbols of hate.
“Symbols of hate have no use other than to spread ignorance and incite violence,” Hochul said of the bill sponsored by two Long Island lawmakers. “As New Yorkers, we must remain united and actively fight to eradicate these attitudes, and this legislation bolsters those efforts. There is no reason for hate to ever be on display, let alone by a police or fire department charged with protecting their community.”
State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) said she drafted the legislation after learning that a Confederate flag — the symbol of secessionist slaveholding states during the Civil War — was hung on a Brookhaven Fire Department truck during an August 2020 parade in Patchogue. The Confederate flag also hung in a Levittown Fire Department house until a few years ago.
The law will extend similar legislation signed by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2020 that banned the sale and display of hate symbols, including the Confederate flag and symbols of neo-Nazi ideology and White supremacy, on state property. The law goes into effect immediately.
“With hate on the rise around the world and in our own community, it’s more urgent than ever that we take action to eradicate it wherever we find it,” Kaplan said. “You would think it was common sense that taxpayer-owned property couldn’t be used as a platform for hate, but shockingly there was no law on the books saying so —/ until now. Public property belongs to all of us, and this measure is critical to ensure that our public property isn’t being used to promote hatred.”
Activist Elaine Gross said the law is important because symbols like the Confederate flag send a clear message to some community members: You are not welcome here.
“It is unfortunate that we have gone backwards in many ways in terms of overt acts signaling racism, and white supremacy,” said Gross, president of ERASE Racism, a Syosset-based civil rights organization.
“The message it (the Confederate flag) sends makes it clear that Black people don’t matter, or Jewish people don’t matter,” Gross added.
The bill was supported by the Brookhaven Fire Department, an attorney representing the agency said in February. The department came under fire in August 2020 after a former member hung a Confederate flag on a fire truck during a parade to support a sick Patchogue firefighter. Brookhaven Fire Department officials apologized for the incident.
The Levittown Fire Department drill team’s nickname is the Rebels, and its logo for many years was a bearded man dressed in a gray Civil War uniform clutching a Confederate flag. Levittown Chief Al Williams told Newsday in 2020 that the department had removed Confederate symbols from buildings and equipment.
“In this time of high polarization, publicly owned entities must maintain their neutrality and ensure their workplaces are apolitical settings for municipal workers and taxpayers alike,” said Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont). “Our state is home to one of the most diverse populations in the world, and no New Yorker should have to interface with symbols of hate when engaging with their local governmental agencies.”