DETROIT (AP) — A student who led a two-day demonstration outside of his central Michigan high school this week said it was in response to the unpunished theft of a Confederate battle flag from his pickup truck.
Cameron Myers, an 18-year-old senior at Bay City Western High School, an overwhelmingly white high school about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Detroit in Auburn, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he complained to school officials that someone had cut the large Confederate flag from a pole on his truck, but no one was disciplined. He then took to friends on social media, asking them to fly their own flags outside the school.
“It all started because my flag was destroyed and nothing was done about it,” said Myers. “I said to ‘fly whatever flag you have at home.’ Everybody here has the Confederate flag. It’s a country boy thing where it’s in their garages, bedrooms, windows.”
On Tuesday, about five to eight trucks with Confederate flags parked across from the school, where only about seven of the roughly 1,200 students are black. There were about 20 parked vehicles on Wednesday, and they were met by students who staged a counter-demonstration by waving rainbow flags and placards with messages including “Black Lives Matter” and “Hate Not Heritage.”
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Although Myers says he’s not racist and that his protest shouldn’t be seen as such, some students at the school, where more than 94 percent of students are white, saw it otherwise.
“We’re a white-majority school,” Kendrix Szilagyi told the Bay City Times on Wednesday. “It’s making some of the students and people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.”
School officials said most of the pro-Confederate flag demonstrators weren’t students at the school, but Myers disagreed, saying all but one went to Bay City Western.
Administrators canceled classes Thursday at the high school and an adjoining middle school due to reported threats. But Bay County Sheriff Troy Cunningham said the reports apparently started with “one student hearing from another student and passed around on social media.”
Eventually, the information that “people were coming over to Bay City Western to confront students” made its way to the high school’s principal, said the school district superintendent, Stephen Bigelow. He said both schools planned to reopen Friday.
Efforts to remove Confederate flags from public places as symbols of national division and black oppression accelerated after violence during a white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Myers said he’s not racist and that his demonstration shouldn’t be seen as such. He also said he hasn’t received any threats due to the flag demonstrations.
“I didn’t think it would go this far,” he added, saying that in hindsight he might have taken a different approach.
Myers’ grandmother, Lynn Boyce, said everything has been “blown out of proportion.”
“These boys are rednecks,” Boyce said of Cameron and his friends. “The Confederate flag does not mean anything racist to them. We’re not racists.”
She believes whoever stole Myers’ flag from his truck is really to blame for the trouble. She also said her grandson and his friends weren’t planning on protesting again on Friday.
Cunningham said his department is investigating the theft of Myers’ flag.
“We believe his flag was taken down or his truck might have been keyed,” he said. “We’re just monitoring the situation closely, working with other law enforcement, making sure nothing turns violent, nobody gets hurt and education isn’t disrupted.”
Bigelow said the school district is also trying to get to the bottom of it.
“High school students sometimes make terrible decisions,” he said.
News researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York City.