TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - A northern Michigan police officer has been suspended with pay after he was seen off-duty driving a pickup truck bearing a Confederate flag around a group protesting Republican Donald Trump’s election as president.
Officer Michael Peters’ suspension was announced Sunday by Traverse City police Chief Jeff O’Brien, who earlier said an internal investigation will start Monday to see whether Peters broke any departmental rules.
“He is not working as a police officer,” O’Brien told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. “I do not condone his actions.”
O’Brien confirmed that Peters was in a photo taken from Friday’s rally. The newspaper could not reach Peters for comment, and The Associated Press was unable to find a telephone number for Peters.
The Confederate battle flag is seen by many people as a symbol of hatred and intimidation of African-Americans following the U.S. Civil War and the freeing of blacks from slavery. Michigan was not only part of the Union during the Civil War, it contributed large numbers of supplies and soldiers, including many generals, to the fight against the Confederacy.
The flag was flown from the rear bed of a pickup near a “Love Trumps Hate” rally in the city. The truck was then parked near the rally where the driver was seen drinking a beer.
One of the protesters, Marshall Collins Junior, told CBS Cadillac affiliate WWTV he spotted the officer’s truck with the flag.
“I was talking to some friends and my sister and then that’s when the truck came by with the flag on it and revved its engine right as it got near us,” Collins said.
Collins then confronted Peters.
“My confrontation was, why you would bring that here, knowing what that stands for? Why would you bring that here? The fear that that flag instills in me, the fear that that flag has put in me and other people like me, why would you choose to display that?” Collins said.
The Grand Traverse Democrat Party Chair, John Snow, said Peters also took out a bottle of beer and started drinking it.
“The fact that this man carries the shield of the Traverse City Police Department, I think wrecks all of the good work that our current chief has done in trying to improve community relations,” Snow said.
Police chief O’Brien said the behavior was intimidating and not a reflection of the police department’s mission, according to the newspaper.
“We will get through this,” O’Brien said. “The community will get through this.”
There have been numerous reports of threats, intimidation and racially charged violence around the country since Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s presidential election.