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Gettysburg won’t remove Confederate flag from police patch

July 14, 2015 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota town doesn’t plan to change a police emblem and uniform patch designed in 2009 that includes a Confederate flag despite an activist’s calls for the insignia to be altered, city officials said Tuesday.

Gettysburg Mayor Bill Wuttke and Police Chief Bill Wainman said the police patch is a tribute to the history of the town — it was settled by Civil War veterans from both sides in the 1880s and named after the site of a battle that’s considered the turning point of the war — and they argue it has nothing to do with racism. Lynn Hart, an African American and a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe who lives near Flandreau, said he’s not calling anyone racists, but that the divisive symbol should be removed from the patch.

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“People don’t understand what that symbol means to a person of color,” Hart said. “That symbol, whether it’s ill intended or not, is not bringing people together.”

Concerns about the patch come weeks after the shooting deaths of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that spurred a national debate about the Confederate flag. The flag no longer flies at South Carolina’s statehouse after lawmakers approved a high-profile measure to remove it last week.

Scott Barksdale, who designed the patch for the Gettysburg Police Department, said the crossed Confederate and American flags on the emblem are meant to show the unity of the Civil War survivors who came together to settle in the town. Barksdale, who lives in Columbia, South Carolina, said it’s “a way of showing these people put the past behind them.”

“The bottom line is it’s really just part of the history of the town,” Wainman said. “At this point I just have no intention of changing it.”

The emblem is on the department’s formal uniform, Wainman said, which the force’s other officer typically wears. It’s also on a squad car. A memorial near the Potter County Courthouse carries a similar design.

Comments have been infrequent, but almost all positive, he said.

Wuttke said he doesn’t see a problem with the patch and that it’s about the town’s heritage.

“We’re a small community in central South Dakota, and if some blacks want to come in here we’ll respect them,” Wuttke said. “We had an air base out here, and we had the blacks that came, and there was none of them that felt like we were discriminating against them.”

U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2013 say Potter County, where Gettysburg is located, is 96.7 percent white.

Hart said Gettysburg is embarrassing itself and sending the wrong message.

“I think South Dakota is a lot better than that,” Hart said. “Cover that flag up with another American flag, and roll on.”