New York Legislator Kneels to Protest Resolution Honoring Flag Day

June 15, 2018

A Democratic member of the New York State Assembly took a knee during a meeting of the state legislature's lower chamber on Thursday to protest a resolution honoring Flag Day.

Assemblyman Charles Barron, a former member of the Black Panther Party, lambasted efforts to honor the American flag without properly confronting the country's complicated history with race.

"I rise to speak on this resolution because many Americans were quick to point out the racism in the Confederate flag, but they fail to point the racism in the American flag," Barron said. "It has affected many of us."

"Americans don't want to point out the racism in the American flag," he repeated.

In his speech, Barron provided a historical overview of the country's founding as a means of explaining his views. He began by castigating the Revolutionary War, arguing it was fought on the premise of granting freedom to "white men" with little thought for how that "would apply" to women and people of color.

"This is how this country started," Barron said.

As the assemblyman spoke, jeers could be heard from within the chamber, leading Barron to request quiet and say that those who "didn't like" his remarks would have time to "get up and say something" when he finished.

Barron then moved to repudiate Betsy Ross and Francis Hopkinson, the designers of the first official American flag.

"While they were stitching the flag," he said, "we were catching stitches in slavery."

Ross and Hopkinson were not the only historical figures to elicit rebuke. Barron also assailed Francis Scott Key, the composer of the national anthem, as a "slaveholder" and "racist" who included references to slavery in his original version of the "Star-Spangled Banner."

"That's the real American history, that's what this flag means to me," Barron said. "So when you say pledge allegiance to this, you have your politics and I have mine."

Barron also urged NFL players "to stand up like men" and continue to protest symbols "born in racism."

"On behalf of all of the NFL players whose white owners are telling them that if they want to protest the national anthem, they have to go into a locker room and do it," Barron said. "I tell them to be men, to stand up like men, and protest this flag because it has the same symbolism as the Confederate flag to some of us because it was born in racism."

To show that actions mean more than words, Barron proceeded to take a knee on the assembly floor to boos from fellow lawmakers.

Barron is no stranger to controversy. Apart from being a vocal opponent of police brutality and economic inequality, Barron has long been a critic of Israel. In 2010, following actions Israel took against a flotilla of ships seeking to break its blockade of Gaza, Barron rebuked the Jewish state as "the biggest terrorist in the world." Barron's views on Israel hampered his 2012 bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives when many prominent New York Democrats denounced him as anti-Semitic and marshaled support for his opponent.

Barron, who once boasted that all his "heroes were America's enemies," has long lionized military dictators with a record of animosity toward the United States. In 2011, shortly after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in the midst of the country's civil war, he mourned the fallen strongman as a "freedom fighter" in the mold of Nelson Mandela.

In 2002, Barron hosted a reception for Robert Mugabe, the former leader of Zimbabwe, in New York City, where the dictator journeyed to the United Nations to denounce "colonial oppressors." While running for the state legislature in 2014, Barron disclosed an interest in helping broker a visit by Mugabe to the New York state capital.