A relative of George Floyd said now is the time for police in his little South Dakota town of Gettysburg to remove an image from their logo that he feels belongs on the trash heap of history — the Confederate flag.
Selwyn Jones, as one of a handful of black residents in the prairie town named for the tide-turning battle of the Civil War, promises to make his voice heard when the City Council on Monday takes up the fate of the logo bearing the signature symbol that Southern troops flew in their mission to preserve slavery.
Jones, 54, whose late sister is Floyd’s mother, made his vow Monday as he drove back to South Dakota from Minneapolis, where he sat in the hearing for the four fired Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s May 25 death.
“ ‘Bill, we really have the Confederate flag on our police uniforms?’ ” Jones recalled saying three weeks ago in a phone call to Mayor William Wuttke on the same day he attended his nephew’s funeral in Houston. “Man, that’s got to go.”
Jones said the mayor responded with, “ ‘We’ll see about it.’ … That’s what a white guy in control and power says. We’ll see about it. ... Whatever.”
On Tuesday, Wuttke told the Star Tribune that the Police Department is “working on something different,” but it’s happening against his wishes, the will of most everyone in town of roughly 1,200 and is being pushed by outsiders.
“We’re not wanting the liberals and the press telling us we have to change it,” he said. “People here do not feel it’s racism.
“It’s so ridiculous; 99% of the people don’t have any idea [that the Confederate flag is on the insignia]. It’s just something that’s there. I’ve had more local people in favor of it than against it.”
Two days after speaking with the mayor, Jones wrote a message on Facebook to his community, where he and his wife are raising two children and where he runs a motel, expressing confidence that the two-person police force’s insignia will be changed.
“I know my neighbors will listen in order to understand the history of hurt that African-Americans and other people of color have experienced,” wrote Jones, who moved to Gettysburg three years ago. “I am also sure that the flag issue in Gettysburg will be resolved because the killing of my nephew George Floyd is offensive to all lovers of freedom.”
The insignia as currently designed has been on the police vehicle, uniforms and elsewhere on department property since 2009. It is composed of equally sized American and Confederate flags, with a cannon below where the flags’ poles cross.
Wuttke, who’s been involved in local politics for more than 20 years, said the council was presented two redesign options by the police chief at the time, Gayle Kludt.
Quite simply, Wuttke said, “She was asked which one you like, and she chose that one.”
The 21st-century battle of Gettysburg in the town about 350 miles straight west of Minneapolis comes as disputes across the country flare up over the display of the Confederate flag and monuments named for prominent figures in American history who supported slavery, pushed Native Americans off their land or espoused racist viewpoints.
Police Chief Dave Mogard could not be reached for comment, but at a special council session called on June 12, he said a redesign is needed to the patch he has worn on his uniform since joining the department in 2018.
“I am not against the current patch, but I am not for the current patch,” Mogard said. “My opinion is this: Would you put the Confederate flag on your business or your home? If you are not willing to put the Confederate flag on your business or your home, then why is it being forced upon our agency?”
In 2015, city leaders firmly defended the insignia amid debate over the Confederate flag after the deadly shooting in South Carolina at a historically black church by a racist infatuated with the Civil War South.
“This patch has no racist intentions,” a Facebook posting by the city read at the time. “It is meant to be another way that we, as a city, represent our heritage. … The Chief of Police, Bill Wainman, the Mayor, Bill Wuttke, and the City Council have no intentions of changing the police patch.”
The insignia’s designer, Scott Barksdale, backed up the city’s argument and explained the crossed Confederate and American flags are meant to show how Civil War survivors came together in South Dakota and “put the past behind them.”
The Gettysburg on the prairie was settled in 1883 by veterans on both sides of the Civil War among others and named for the battle “to honor their fallen comrades and to acknowledge those men who had survived,” according to the city’s website.
The historical rationale behind the insignia’s design isn’t flying with a newfound friend of Jones, 19-year-old South Dakotan Caitlin Kroemer. She has collected more than 4,000 signatures on change.org in the campaign to rid the Confederate flag from the police emblem.
“South Dakota did not exist until 24 years AFTER the Civil War,” her petition reads. “The confederacy was a blatantly racist organization that is not a fundamental part of our state’s history. … This heritage is not ours, it has no place here.”
Kroemer, a political science major at the University of South Dakota, said she and Jones have been in touch about how to approach the council next week, and “he’s encouraged me to keep going.”
With the cause of justice for his nephew as inspiration, Jones reflected for a moment about his nephew, who he and other relatives knew by his middle name, Perry.
“What are the chances of me being Perry Floyd’s uncle, then what’s the chance of Perry Floyd’s uncle living in a town with that flag on the uniform?”