Following the tragic, fatal shootings in South Carolina at the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, there has been a lot of talk on the news about Confederate flags and whether or not they should be displayed at public buildings. While many feel they are symbols of racism that have no place in modern society, there are those who see the Confederate flag a symbol of heritage and pride in the South, and they feel people should be free to display the flags as they see fit.
According to a recent news article from AL.com, one confrontation involving in the Confederate flag resulted in an arrest in Clanton. Police arrested a 20-year-old suspect on disorderly conduct charges. It is alleged he was driving a vehicle with three other white male occupants who were traveling through a mostly African-American neighborhood while prominently displaying the Confederate flag and yelling racial slurs at the people in the neighborhood.
Authorities further allege that when they were alerted of his conduct and approached suspect, they found him blocking the road with his vehicle. When they asked him to leave the area, he allegedly refused to leave and continued to block the road. At this point, police placed suspect under arrest for disorderly conduct.
Police say there were also reports that local residents responded to the racial slurs and displaying of the Confederate flag by attacking suspect’s vehicle with baseball bats and rocks. Witnesses say the vehicle was in fact damaged prior to the police arriving. The deputy police chief described the situation as one where a group of young people came into the mostly black neighborhood using poor judgment and purposely antagonized the residents. He said at least some of the residents responded to the provocation and damaged suspect’s vehicle. He stated that neither group acted appropriately and assured the citizens that they are the police force for all parts of the city and will do whatever possible to prevent this from happening again.
As our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys can explain, in situations where you have allegedly incited conduct or even an organized protests, the police will typically charge a defendant with a disorderly conduct offense, or failing to listen to a lawful order from a police officer, or even with a traffic violation such as blocking an intersection. The reason for this is because, by charging someone with a misdemeanor that has nothing to with the message, if any, the suspect was trying to convey, the police and prosecutors can avoid any issues pertaining to the First Amendment right to free speech.
In this case involving the Confederate flag, suspect denied making any racial slurs prior to his arrest and said he and his friends were just trying to drive through the neighborhood and were not trying to cause any trouble when the people in the neighborhood decide to attack them and damage his vehicle. On the other hand, police said suspect was being belligerent at the time of his arrest, and he refused to calm down, despite their numerous attempts. It should be noted, suspect has not been convicted of any crime in connection with this incident and is presumed innocent.