After a Facebook event for the burning garnered widespread media attention and scores of counter-protestors at the designated site, demonstrators secretly moved the burning to the top of the park, torching one flag before scattering.
Ridgewood resident John Carroll said he happened upon four or five masked 20-something’s burning the flag near the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument, up a small hill in Fort Greene Park from where the burning was originally to take place.
“I saw smoke from down there, and I thought it would be too late,” he said. “When I got here I was shocked to see so much of the red, white and blue. So I reached in, took it out, and that’s when they ran.”
The flag burning was organized by group DISARM NYPD, and swiftly gained attention after it was posted on social media. The goal of the event, according to the Facebook page, was to “demonstrate for the Charleston nine and all of those killed by racist violence in America.”
DISARM NYPD would demonstrate against the “racist violence,” the event organizers said, by setting “fire to this symbol of oppression.”
The event comes after a renewed debate over the Confederate flag and its place at the South Carolina capitol in light of the recent shootings in that state. The shooter, Dylann Roof, posted pictures on social media with the Civil War flag.
Ahead of the 7:30 p.m. start time on Wednesday, numerous protestors of the burning showed up at the designated area, including members from area motorcycle clubs, including Hallowed Sons. Many protestors questioned the link between the American flag and racial injustice.
“Flags are put on military caskets,” said one motorcycle club member, Joe, who would not give his last name. “Take this out on politicians, not the flag. The flag has nothing to do with it.”
“Let’s [mess up] some hipsters,” said other members, in so many words.
Sheepshead Bay resident Diane Atkins, whose nephew will be joining the Marine Corps in two weeks, came with handfuls of American flags from her home to disperse in protest of the burning.
“I think it’s a disgrace that anyone would think it’s acceptable to burn this symbol of what the country stands for,” she said. “If you think there’s issues with the system there’s ways to address them, not by burning the symbol that people have died for centuries over, to give people the right to even think of doing something like this.”
“If anyone tries to burn these flags, I’ll knock you out,” she added as she passed out her flags.
Fort Greene resident Mike Maloney, dressed in flag shirt and shorts, and whose pit bull, Dakota, sported a flag leash, also questioned the rationale behind the flag burning.
“This flag stands for so much more than what these people are angry about,” he said. “I agree with a lot of gripes people have about the country, but there’s a way to go about it, a way to peacefully protest and legislate, and burning a flag isn’t it.”
Queens resident Joe Concannon, currently running for City Council, said Mayor Bill de Blasio should have played a more active role in deterring protestors.
“Where’s the mayor?” he asked. “Why isn’t he telling people, ‘What are you doing this for?’”
At around 7:45 p.m., as it increasingly seemed the flag burners would not show, a plume of smoke emerged from the top of the park, near the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument.
Reporters, flag-burning protestors and bemused onlookers alike sprinted up to the smoke, however when crowds had made it up the hill, all that remained were a few embers, and Carroll clutching the charred remnants of a flag.
“I’ll cherish it forever,” he said.