NEWBURGH, NY — Newburgh’s black Council members and City Manager Michael Ciaravino are reacting strongly to a meme posted on the Instagram page for the city police officers’ union that seems to give tacit endorsement to a Confederate flag long associated with white supremacy, slavery and racism, and at the center of a nationwide controversy.
The meme, captured from the Instagram page for the Newburgh Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, shows a Confederate flag below the words “This does not offend me.”
Another image consists of what looks to be two black males with their underwear exposed, a style many young males have adopted. Above the two males are the words “But this bulls— does.”
Newburgh Det. Mike Pitt, the PBA’s president, declined to comment on the post, which was apparently taken down earlier on Tuesday.
But Councilwoman Cindy Holmes called the meme “unbelievable” and “totally offensive.” Ciaravino described the post as “disgusting” and “ill-timed.”
It comes at a time when the police department has been instituting initiatives aimed at improving ties with residents and the city has been achieving reductions in violent crime.
“My preliminary information suggests this reprehensible statement was the irresponsible idea of one individual, rather than a reflection of the entire Newburgh PBA membership. It represents very bad judgment – especially in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy,” Ciaravino said.
“I will urge the PBA leadership and membership to review this matter immediately. The Newburgh Police Department has worked too hard to build community relationships to have it all undone by one impulsive reaction of a single member.”
Newburgh Police Department Lieutenant-in-Command Aaron Weaver issued a press release Tuesday night apologizing for the post.
“Our department has worked tirelessly to create transparency within our department and to build an open and trusting relationship with the community. We sincerely regret any damage caused by one person’s thoughtless and inflammatory posting,” the press release said.
Long a symbol of pride to Southerners and white supremacists, and a symbol of oppression and racism for blacks, the battles over Confederate flags and monuments to the South’s Civil War heroes have become more widespread since Dylann Roof shot and killed nine blacks at a church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17,2015.
Battles over the flag and monuments intensified during Donald Trump’s campaign and election as president, which was cheered by white supremacists like David Duke.
“That flag is what caused and created the Civil War,” Councilman Torrance Harvey said. “The way people choose to wear their pants … is totally different from putting people in bondage and supporting the degradation of humans.”
Duke was among those marching with white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, ostensibly to protest the removal of Confederate monuments.
The rally also drew well-known supremacists like Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer, and members of the KKK, with some carrying Confederate flags.
After the rally ended, Heather Heyer was killed when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters. James Alex Fields, an Ohio man photographed protesting with a white supremacist group, has been charged in Heyer’s death.
Following Heyer’s death, a number of cities began removing Confederate monuments.
“With everything that’s going on down in Charlottesville and all over this nation right now, is this necessary?” Holmes said. “It shows blood stains, it shows racist statements. It just is offensive to African Americans, and it’s offensive to all people that want to be equal.”
It is unclear who is allowed to post to the PBA’s Instagram account. The page is filled with memes – some are tributes to Newburgh officers and fallen officers, others are political and decidedly conservative.
“It doesn’t speak for all of a particular group,” Harvey said of the flag. “It speaks for the minority of people in society that still hold on to these racist ideas.”