Plans to Burn American Flag in Brooklyn War Memorial Park to Protest Racism Spur Controversy

Hundreds of activists plan to set fire to the American flag at a Brooklyn park that memorializes thousands of Revolutionary War heroes Wednesday in protest of "systemic racism," drawing the ire of lawmakers and residents across the five boroughs.

A group called Disarm NYPD will lead the protest at Fort Greene Park at 7:30 p.m. The group says it will also burn the Confederate flag in a rally against the country’s long history of systemic racism after nine people were killed in a historic South Carolina church earlier this month.

The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, a memorial to the more than 11,500 American prisoners of war who died in captivity aboard British prison ships during the Revolutionary War, sits at the center of the park, atop its tallest hill. The remains of some of those who died on the ships are interred in a crypt underneath the base of the war monument. 

That the protesters would burn the American flag in such a place of memorial doubles the outrage for some.

“It’s wrong,” state senator Marty Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn, said. “It’s a wrong message to send to our children, wrong message to send to our communities. Just plain wrong.”

Golden said he is determined to stop the group, saying that burning anything in a city park is illegal. He said he is calling on Mayor de Blasio's administration to step in to stop the protest.

The mayor’s office said Tuesday it is urging organizers to cancel the event and “find a respectful way to express their opinions.”

“This protest is a divisive, disrespectful way to express views, and does not reflect the values of our city,” spokeswoman Monica Klein said in an email statement.

Residents had mixed views about the planned protest.

“I wouldn't participate, but I think it's a good thing,” Clinton Hill resident Kevin Barry said. “I think people are exercising their freedom of speech.”

Others wondered if the protest would really make a difference.

“I’m not sure how effective it will be,” said one parkgoer named Stephanie. “Maybe it will draw attention, but I’m not sure how effective it will be.”

The group responded to criticism in a statement on its Facebook page.

“We find it a sign of the times that people can care so much about a piece of cloth, while at the same time be so quiet about black churches being burned all over the country,” the group said.

"We do not believe the ideals of America are anything to be revered ... We dream of what real freedom looks like: freedom from paramilitaries occupying our communities, beating and killing our sons and daughters; freedom from our communities being destroyed by the speculative capital of gentrification; freedom from mass surveillance; and freedom from systemic racism," the statement continued. "So, we will burn the American flag, a symbol of oppression and genocide, and in the same action, dismantle our stunted, cynical expectations of what is possible in the world."

In April, a group of artists hauled a 100-pound statue of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to the park in the dead of night and installed it on top one of the war monument's pillars. 

The intent, in that case, was to highlight those who sacrificed their safety to fight against "modern-day tyrannies," the group said. The statue was removed a day after it was installed. 

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