HAMTRAMCK, Mich. – Residents in a Michigan historic immigrant community and some city officials there have denounced a homeowner’s decision to fly a Nazi flag, in an area lauded for its diversity and inclusion.
Images of the home with the flag flying circulated on social media on Friday and were met with a chorus of outrage, prompting a statement by the city condemning the display in Hamtramck, a city largely surrounded by Detroit.
City officials said the flag has since been taken down on the homeowner’s own accord, as the city could not intervene because it was on private property.
“While we recognize Constitutionally protected speech, we cannot condone words and symbols intended to divide,”a statement from city officials reads. “Hamtramck is a tight-knit community full of diverse people from various cultures, backgrounds, and lived experiences. It is our hope that we come together as a city that appreciates diversity and rejects hate that makes that diversity unsustainable. In doing this, we can all make Hamtramck a better place to live.”
Hamtramck Mayor Amer Ghalib told the Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, the homeowner’s decision to publicly fly a Nazi flag does not reflect the city’s values of peace, tolerance and love. The flag flown appears to be a Nazi war flag, called a Reichskriegsflagge (meaning imperial war flag, according to several online language translators), that features a swastika in a white circle, black horizontal and vertical stripes and a cross in the upper left corner.
“We know that there are people who are xenophobic or bigoted, but they are few and they have no impact or influence in our community,” Ghalib said. “And actually, when they do such action and behavior, they unite the community even more.”
At the center of the controversy is an age-old debate about where the line between freedom of speech and tolerance for discrimination lies, but Ghalib said the line is clear: “Freedom of speech ends when you start hurting people.”
“I don’t think that’s a reasonable argument, this (the flag) is something that reminds people who lost loved ones of bad and painful memories,” he said. “We are with tolerance, acceptance and peace but we cannot tolerate hateful behavior in our community.”
Attempts to reach the homeowners Sunday were unsuccessful.
Hamtramck’s rich Polish roots
Hamtramck’s history is lined with immigration, with rich Polish roots tracing back to the early 1900s and now with an established Yemeni and Bangladeshi immigrant population. It is home to what is considered the nation’s first all-Muslim city council.
The connotations of the flag flown at the home are seen everywhere in the United States, making it no more egregious than it would be anywhere else in the nation despite the number of Hamtramck families with legacies impacted by Nazism, the Holocaust and Adolf Hitler, said former Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski, who has a family member who survived Auschwitz.
“It is shocking, as you’ve seen by the response,” Majewski said Sunday. “It showed up in Hamtramck, in a community that prides itself on its diversity and its acceptance. But we’re also living in a time where these kinds of displays have become more acceptable and maybe less surprising.”
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Majewski also emphasized a need to reject any equivalencies drawn between this incident and tensions in the summer that were sparked after a Pride rainbow flag was flown on another Hamtramck street.
“Those flags are not the same thing. When we’re talking about the Pride flag, we’re talking about a flag that symbolizes acceptance and tolerance, and of course with the Nazi flag, we’re talking about exactly the opposite, it’s a flag that denotes murder and genocide.”
However, echoing Ghalib’s sentiments, Majewski said the community’s response was a sign that this behavior is not a reflection of Hamtramck or its future.
“I’m heartened by the response of the community,” she said. “There was a loud outcry and response against it and that’s something that we should applaud and appreciate. The community stepped up and spoke against it immediately.”
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