Confederate flag controversy revisited in Melbourne
'If the flag bothers you, turn your back,' councilman says
MELBOURNE, Fla. – As a U.S. Air Force brat, Tess Martin grew up attending patriotic parades on military bases. And she said she was "sickened" to see Confederate battle flags waving during Melbourne's Independence Day parade.
"That flag is anti-American. And there were two floats, right after the float that the mayor rode by on, with Confederate flags all over (them). Encouraging kids to join the Confederacy and have a ‘Dixie Day,’ and all this other stuff -- on July 4," Martin told the Melbourne City Council during a Monday budget workshop.
"That is outrageous," said Martin, who serves on the city's Citizens Advisory Board.
Two years ago, emotional debate erupted over whether Melbourne tax dollars should help finance parades when Confederate Sons Association of Florida Indian River Camp 47 and Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp J.J. Dickison Camp 1387 typically fly the controversial flag, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
United Third Bridge, a Melbourne-based Hispanic civil rights organization, threatened an economic boycott and organized a September 2015 anti-flag rally outside Melbourne City Hall. However, counterprotesters also attended the rally, saying the Confederate flag signifies Southern heritage and freedom of speech.
For 2017-18, City Hall administrators have programmed $2,500 to sponsor the Fourth of July parade, $2,000 for the Memorial Day parade, and $2,000 for the Veterans Day parade into Melbourne's proposed $161 million budget.
Monday, Councilwoman Teresa Lopez made a motion to delete the funding. Her husband, Samuel, is president of United Third Bridge. In 2015, she unsuccessfully lobbied for an ordinance prohibiting City Hall from sponsoring events that feature the Confederate flag.
“I can’t see how funding these three parades benefits all our Melbourne residents when some feel belittled, insulted and upset by the participation of a hatred symbol: the Confederate flag," she said.
Lopez's motion died for lack of a second. Mayor Kathy Meehan said such debate should occur during city council’s upcoming “grants-in-aid” nonprofit funding discussion, which has not yet been scheduled. Council members will adopt the budget in September.
Councilman Tim Thomas said the Confederate battle flag is protected by the First Amendment.
“If the flag bothers you, you turn your back. And that’s the way you protest. But it’s under our constitution: Folks have the right to carry and display that flag, as do the ones that want to burn the American flag,” Thomas said.
On the other hand, Councilwoman Yvonne Minus said she heard offensive remarks from flag supporters at City Hall two years ago.
“That flag does not stand for anything good, if you know the history of it. Bury your head all you want. But it still does not stand for anything good,” Minus said.
Martin and a handful of Confederate flag opponents spoke during Monday's meeting, and discussion on the topic lasted about 35 minutes.
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