CHICAGO (CBS) — Members of veterans’ motorcycle clubs gathered outside St. Sabina on Thursday to protest the American flag being flown at half mast, with a Chi-Raq flag from the recent Spike Lee film at the top of the pole.
“It’s definitely disrespectful. Men and women over the years have died for that flag. Treat it with the respect that it’s due, that’s all. That’s all we’re asking,” said Frank Gremske, president of the Chicago chapter of the American Lawmen Motorcycle Club.
Word of the protest reached the church, and the Chi-Raq flag was removed later Thursday morning, but then the American flag was briefly flown at half-mast and upside down, prompting renewed backlash before it was flown upright again, though still at half-mast.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Rev. Michael Pfleger said the church was flying its American flag at half-staff after an especially bloody January in Chicago, when shootings were more than double the number in January 2015, and homicides were up 75 percent from the same time period last year. The 51 murders were the most in January in Chicago since at least 2000.
“We have an American tradition of flying the flag half mast when there is some American tragedy or loss of life…..Well, With Chicago Violence in January being the worst in over 16 years, i believe we are indeed experiencing an American Tragedy and certainly a loss of LIVES….so this morning WE LOWERED OUR AMERICAN FLAG TO HALF MAST and it will remain that way until this surge of Violence STOPS…I invite other churches and schools to do the same,” Pfleger wrote on his Facebook page.
Tom Russell, president of the Canaryville Veterans Riders Association, said the way St. Sabina was flying the flag is unacceptable.
The U.S. Flag Code requires the American flag to be at the highest point of a group whenever flown with other flags, even when flown at half-mast.
“I can understand if he’s mad about this. That’s fine … but fly the flag properly. A lot of people, good men and women, put their lives on the line for that flag,” Russell said.