truck sporting a Confederate flag

This pickup truck sporting a Confederate flag was spotted last week in the McDonald's drive-thru in the SouthTowne Plaza in White Township. 

It is a message from Indiana Borough Council to those who drive through town bearing what’s been called the Stars and Bars on their trucks, or who fly what also has been called the Confederate battle flag from their front porches.

Council approved a resolution Tuesday night that “formally rejects any efforts to intimidate any of its residents and visitors (and) formally denounces hateful or violent speech directed at any individual or group based on their race or ethnicity” by proclaiming that ”the public display of the confederate flag is inconsistent with the values of the Borough, our Commonwealth, and the United States.”

And that is “Confederate” with a small “c,” though it refers to the Southern rebel government that fought a civil war against the Union from 1861 to 1865.

The resolution came out of the Community Development Committee chaired by Councilman Ben Ford.

Councilwoman Sara Stewart started the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, citing an article in The Penn, the online student publication at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, that was part of a series on being Black in Indiana.

She noted one student observing “a truck drive by flying the Confederate flag and (an occupant of that truck) yelling the N-word.”

Stewart continued, “I think we have all seen the flag around town. I thought the article was a good place to start a conversation,” and pointed to a similar resolution passed around Memorial Day in Ebensburg, Cambria County.

Council Vice President Gerald Smith said the rebel flags “do not make a lot of sense,” and wondered what else council could do, calling the non-binding resolution “a good first step.”

“If military bases can ban them, then at the minimum we should be able to do something,” Councilman Sean McDaniel said, though he said he didn’t think council could outright ban them.

“If we come out and say this, are we going to see fewer Confederate flags or more Confederate flags?” Councilwoman Kaycee Newell wondered, expressing concern that council might be “kicking a hornets’ nest” that could bring out more of the flags.

“I think that is a bit of a stretch,” Council President Peter Broad replied.

“Why pass resolutions if they do not do anything?” Councilwoman Poom Sunhachawi-Taylor asked, saying a hornets’ nest had been triggered over the proposed ordinance that would have enforced the state’s mandates for wearing face coverings and regulating gatherings and waiting lines.

That ordinance was tabled at the Sept. 8 council meeting and not brought back up Tuesday night.

Smith said council does not have much of a chance, as a body, to make statements of its intention.

McDaniel said he understands what was being said about the resolution, but that “I am uncomfortable allowing a loud minority to drive our actions.”

Councilwoman Sara Steelman wondered what would happen if the resolution prompted more people to put out the rebel flag.

“One possibility is that people in the borough will react to that by putting out more Black Lives Matter flags,” Steelman said. She thought there should be demonstrations that “we want to be a welcoming community.”

She added, “I think the silent majority … do not support treason against the United States, which is what the Confederate flag demonstrates,” and hoped the resolution would get people to speak up on that issue.

Ford also questioned anyone “making a clear and conscientious choice” to go out and buy a rebel flag in response to the resolution.

“We are an extremely divided country,” Newell said.

Commenting on an Indiana Gazette story of the mask ordinance debate as it was treated on social media, she said people will read about this resolution and react, and “we shouldn’t play to the lowest common denominator,” but rather seek to be a uniting force in the community.

“We either make a statement of who we are or we don’t,” McDaniel said.

“There are issues where there are right and wrong,” Broad said. “I see no positive value to the people who would oppose this. I’d rather be right and go down in flames … when it comes to moral issues.”

Smith said he has a friend who has a Confederate flag tattoo.

“If we are going to do this we have to follow it up by some sort of education,” the council vice president suggested.

Steelman quoted the late Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who wrote, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Newell moved to table the resolution, and Sunhachawi-Taylor seconded that motion, but council rejected it, then on a voice vote approved the resolution.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Smith said the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission voted Monday to approve an Indiana County Advisory Council that will have 19 members. Names of those members were not available Tuesday night.