When people broke into City Hall in Reno, Nevada, this weekend during protests against police brutality, they smashed windows, set fires and took items from the building — including an American flag from a World War II Navy ship.
City officials thought the flag, which had been held in a display box on the first floor of the building, might have been one of the few that were burned Saturday night.
But Tuesday, the flag reappeared with a handwritten, anonymous note attached: “Needed protecting. Looters were flag burning. RIP George Floyd.”
The note was addressed to a local television news reporter, Kenzie Margiott, who had written a story about the missing flag. The flag had a tag labeled “85-55-A USS Reno CL-96.”
Margiott said she had at first posted the story about the flag without her name, fearing a backlash for writing about the protests because of hostility toward the news media.
But an hour later, after seeing reaction from readers about how important the flag was to them, she added her name. Readers posted messages on her station’s Facebook page and to her Twitter account about how their fathers and grandfathers had been aboard the ship, she said.
When she opened the package at the television station, she was shocked to find the tattered flag, which had bloodstains on it.
As soon as he heard the news, Devon Reese, the vice mayor of Reno, sped to the television station.
“As a country and a community, we’ve been having a rough couple of days,” he said, tearing up. “The idea that someone returned the flag just gave me a little more faith in humanity.”
Demonstrators in scores of U.S. cities have protested police brutality and the death of Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
Many of the protests have been peaceful, but a number of police officers and protesters have been injured, and at least five people have died. Videos have shown police officers using batons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets on protesters, bystanders and journalists, sometimes without warning. People have vandalized and looted stores, government buildings and police stations.
Reese said that earlier Saturday, there was a peaceful protest of about 2,500 people. By the early evening, there were about 200 hundred people left. Several spray-painted the outside of the police department and threw rocks at police cars, he said.
They then forced their way into City Hall, Reese said, starting fires and smashing items on the first floor of the 15-story building, including the case where the flag was held.
During World War II, the Navy ship Reno supported carriers that sent air attacks against enemy forces. The ship also provided protection to the fleet against aerial attacks at Iwo Jima. In November 1944, the ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo that caused an explosion and flooded parts of the vessel, according to the City of Reno.
The ship’s flag was donated to the city in 1946, The Reno Gazette Journal reported.
The return of the flag was not just an emotional moment for Reese; the chief of police was also crying, he said.
“If you exhale about the last several days and what the national news looks like, and you can say, ‘OK, we can get through this, too,’” Reese said. “This is just a little symbol of that.”
City officials do not know who returned the flag. Margiott later reviewed security footage and saw that the man who delivered the package looked as if he was in his 20s or 30s and seemed nervous and fidgety.
She said she only cared that the flag was back with the city and the citizens of Reno.
“In the grand scheme of things, Reno is a really small town,” she said, adding in reference to the vandalism and looting: “I think I could speak for most people in this community when I say that that’s not the Reno we know and love.
“To have a little glimmer of hope in some really dark times really means a lot.”