ADL Southeast Regional Director Mark Moskowitz sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday, July 15, to urge the governor to order the Confederate symbol removed from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency emblem.
“Although displays of the Confederate flag in the context of museums, historical reenactments or textbooks may be appropriate, in the 21st Century this symbol of hate and oppression has absolutely no place in other official government displays or contexts,” Moskowitz wrote, according to an ADL press release. “Regardless of intent, such governmental displays implicitly convey an acceptance of racism and hatred — and hatred left unchecked can lead to horrific consequences.”
The Confederate battle flag has come under increased scrutiny and criticism since white supremacist Dylann Roof gunned down nine worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17. A week later, the battle flag and three other Confederate flags were removed from a memorial on the grounds of the Alabama Capitol under an executive order from Bentley. The governor said he wanted to avoid the flag becoming a distraction.
But it became a distraction anyway Tuesday, July 14, when a representative of the Huntsville NAACP, the Rev. Robert Shanklin, called for the flag to be removed from the uniforms and vehicles of state troopers.
Moskowitz picked up the argument in his letter the next day. “The African American community is fearful and feels vulnerable,” he wrote. “At this difficult time, it needs reassurance that law enforcement is committed to protecting the community and treating all people equally before the law.”
The flag is not by itself on state troopers’ uniforms, however. The emblem of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, established in December by combining 12 previous state agencies, features the Alabama coat of arms. That coat of arms uses a shield with representations of the five nations that have had sovereignty over Alabama since colonial times: France, Spain, Britain, the Confederacy and the United States.
So unlike a flag flying on public grounds, the battle flag has historical context on troopers’ uniforms, and eliminating it would involve removing or changing the state coat of arms. But the flag also becomes part of the national debate over police treatment of black people.
“The African American community is fearful and feels vulnerable. At this difficult time, it needs reassurance that law enforcement is committed to protecting the community and treating all people equally before the law,” Moskowitz wrote.
“The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency emblem is antithetical to instilling such confidence within the African American community and beyond. Undoubtedly, it is highly offensive to many and a cause for mistrust of law enforcement. Furthermore, the emblem is a painful reminder of an ugly period in our nation’s history when some law enforcement agencies and officials were complicit in opposing the civil rights movement. As a result, it may cause fear of Agency officials particularly for persons who lived through those times.”
The letter concludes that removing the flag from the agency emblem would show sensitivity to the black community’s concerns. “We therefore urge you to expeditiously issue an executive order that removes the Confederate flag from the Agency’s emblem and retires all official displays of the current one.”
The ADL had not received a response from Bentley by Thursday, July 16.