An ongoing demonstration of Confederate symbols outside a Michigan high school was apparently set off when a black girl snatched a flag from a white classmate’s pickup truck.
Classes were canceled Thursday at Bay City Western High School over a threat, although school officials later said no credible evidence was turned up about the rumors, reported WNEM-TV.
The demonstration started Tuesday, when six pickups waved Confederate flags outside the school, and swelled Wednesday to dozens of trucks bearing Confederate flags, Trump campaign flags, Punisher skull flags and Gadsden flags associated with the tea party movement.
After school was called off, some Western students and adults gathered at Auburn City Park to wave Confederate flags and hold a cookout.
The protesters expressed hostility to reporters at the park, complaining that they had been portrayed as racist in media accounts of the protest and conditions at the school, where the handful of black students who go there say they’ve been called “slave” and other racial slurs.
Student Cameron Myers said he organized the protest earlier this week after a black classmate removed the Confederate flag on his truck, which he said was vandalized with a racial slur.
“They wrote the ‘N’ word on the back of my truck,” Myers told WJRT-TV. “I have the video of her doing it, and they ripped down my flag.”
Myers said school administrators failed to act, although he said his truck was parked on school property at the time, and he complained he was the victim of a double standard.
“I want to do what’s right,” he said. “If I would have went to and touched her car, I would have been suspended. If I would have done anything to her car, I would have been suspended. So I want repercussions for what was done to my property.”
Myers said the flag represented “a country boy thing” to him and his friends, and he told a reporter the symbol has been “part of American history” since the founding of the U.S.
“We’re flying the flag because of injustice,” Myers said. “It looks cool in the mirror,” he said.
The Confederate demonstration has been met by counter-protesters waving rainbow flags to support LGBT rights and carrying Black Lives Matter banners, and they said the school’s tiny minority population had been singled out for abuse.
“I honestly don’t care if they fly the flag on their way home, but we have such a small minority population,” said student Kendrix Szilagyi. “We do not have a diverse school at all, it is a white majority for sure, so the fact that we have to come in every day with kids who already feel out of place, every single day they have to come and see these flags that represent far more all of the white students here could ever imagine.”
Superintendent Stephen Bigelow said he hopes outside organizations can help students discuss the controversy, and said his responsibility was to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.
“My concern is what (the Confederate flag) represents to some students in the building,” Bigelow said. “There’s certainly some racial undertones that could be taken with it.”