A Minnesota firefighter who flew a Confederate flag on the back of his fire truck during Albert Lea's annual Third of July Parade has been suspended from the department, the Associated Press reports. The presence of the flag prompted a great deal of discussion from paradegoers and people on social media.
Brian Nielson, a volunteer with the Hartland Fire Department, told the Associated Press Sunday the fire chief told him he's suspended pending an investigation. Nielson is also an EMT with the department, WCCO notes.
He told WCCO the chief is upset about the negative attention the town is getting because of the incident. He said if the department asks him to resign, he’ll do it.
“I’m sorry I hurt my city and hurt the fire department,” Nielson told WCCO.
Nielson told the AP he is also willing to apologize to the Albert Lea Chamber of Commerce, which organized the parade.
Nielson earlier told the Albert Lea Tribune he didn't think the flag would spur as much discussion within the community and online as it has, noting he's not in support of the "rebel or the slavery" part of what the flag can represent, but he disagrees with efforts nationwide to censor the historic symbol.
This comes as politicians have called for the Confederate flag to be removed from public places, and retailers have pulled them from store shelves in the weeks since nine black churchgoers were killed in South Carolina by a white suspect who claimed he was trying to start a race war.
Nielson told the Star Tribune that political correctness is going too far by taking things "out of history."
Randy Kehr of the Albert Lea Chamber of Commerce spoke with the Star Tribune about the incident, which he called "unfortunate," but noted it was Nielson's right to fly the flag.
He added, "It's a difficult situation. ... It's part of history. It truly is."
MPR News notes the Confederate flag was flown at the same height as the U.S. flag, which violates the U.S. Flag Code.
A Twitter user also posted a picture of a Confederate flag that was flown during a different parade in Minnesota over the weekend:
Confederate flags were also flown during other Fourth of July parades around the country, with some groups saying the flag is a symbol of heritage, not hate.
A recent CNN poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe the Confederate flag is a symbol of southern pride, not that of racism. Although opinions are "sharply divided by race" – 72 percent of African Americans say the flag is a symbol or racism, while 25 percent of whites do.