An Ohio police chief is defending his decision to wear a Confederate flag vest to a motorcycle rally in South Dakota.
Robert Hickman, chief of Port Clinton police, was seen wearing the vest in several Facebook photos taken last month at the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, reported the Sandusky Register.
The photos drew criticism from other social media users, but many residents of the northwest Ohio town — which is 93 percent white — see nothing wrong with the vest.
“I think he was just wearing a shirt,” longtime friend Bryan Meek told WKYC-TV. “Out having a good time one day, and that is basically it.”
“I have known Rob since before kindergarten, basically my whole life, and I could tell you that there is not a racist bone in his body,” Meek added.
Hickman said concerns about his clothing are off-base.
“I do not look at the Confederate flag as a racist symbol,” Hickman said.
Another resident defended Hickman as “a good guy.”
“He is community-minded and he is absolutely not racist, to the best of my knowledge,” said resident Bill Rigoni.
However, the president of the local NAACP chapter said the police chief’s clothing choice was highly inappropriate given his position of authority and in light of recent news events.
“There are likely very few Americans who don’t understand that symbol,” said Jim Jackson, president of the Sandusky chapter of the NAACP. “You can’t be ignorant because every individual in America understands what that flag means.”
The police chief’s wife has also drawn criticism online for a Facebook photo also taken at the rally that shows her sitting alongside a motorcycle with another woman and someone wearing a skeleton costume — each of them extending their middle fingers.
Roseann Hickman, who is running for an at-large City Council seat this November in Port Clinton, declined to comment on the photo.
“I will not discuss my personal Facebook page, which has a privacy setting for my friends only,” she said.
The couple released a joint statement declining further comment on the controversy.
“Our private life is not open for discussion,” the statement said.