'It's offensive, plain and simple.' Elected leaders address concerns about Nazi symbol
FARMINGTON — When protesters gathered along East Main Street on May 21, one of them brought a New Mexico flag that had the Zia symbol altered and transformed into a Nazi symbol.
This flag, along with the mass gathering of hundreds of people during a pandemic, led to outcry from many San Juan County residents.
The May 21 protest was the second protest demanding that all businesses be allowed to reopen. During both protests, people compared New Mexico's response to the coronavirus to the measures implemented by Nazis in Germany during the holocaust. The protesters also compared Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to Adolph Hitler.
A petition on Change.org had gathered more than 1,500 signatures in three days. The organizers presented the petition to Farmington city officials and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office on May 26, according to Claudia Anderson, who delivered the petition.
"I found the demonstration last Thursday to be unlawful and highly detrimental to Farmington," Anderson said, explaining that it violated public health orders.
The public health orders include prohibiting gatherings of more than five people and requiring six-foot social distancing.
The protest attracted between 500 and 1,000 people, many of whom did not wear masks or social distance.
"They managed in one fell swoop to violate every single order," she said.
Coronavirus in New Mexico:Here are the latest coronavirus updates from San Juan County, Four Corners region
The petition remains open and, by 11 a.m. on May 27, it had garnered 1,644 signatures.
Anderson said she hopes the petition leads to the creation of a bipartisan working group to "lay a path forward.'
"If the open up crowd wasn't so anti-mask, it would help," she said. "If my crowd wasn't so, 'keep it shut down until our numbers drop,' maybe that would help. The compromise would be if everybody would follow the CDC guidelines for mask wearing and social distancing in public places, we probably could open up a little further."
In a phone conversation on May 27, Mayor Nate Duckett said the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management is a nonpartisan group that meets every week to discuss the pandemic and local response to the virus. The San Juan County Office of Emergency Management posts regular updates to its Facebook page, which Duckett encourages residents to follow.
Another petition was also started on Change.org around the same time in support of Mayor Nate Duckett and Sheriff Shane Ferrari, who were targeted in the other petition. By 11:30 a.m. May 27, it had 1,344 signatures.
Ferrari attended the rally
Ferrari was one of the elected officials present at the rally and a picture circulating on social media depicts him in uniform. The man holding the flag with the Nazi symbol can be seen in the background.
Ferrari said in an email to The Daily Times that he is aware of the petition and, because it is an internet petition, many of the signatures are not from San Juan County residents.
Since the rally, Ferrari said he has been answering questions via social media, email and phone. These questions have come from concerned residents, and he said he will continue to answer those questions.
"Those participating in the rally were protected under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. and New Mexico Constitutions," he said in the email. "The person attending the rally with the N.M flag changed to resemble a swastika has caused disruption to our community. I have heard from many citizens who feel insulted, ashamed, anger and fear over the flag, however this form of symbolic speech is protected by the U.S. and New Mexico Constitution."
He said as an elected sheriff he is directly responsible for upholding citizens' rights and enforcing the law. Because of that duty, he declined to comment on how the man holding the flag was exercising his rights.
"Moving forward, I would ask for citizens to remember we are part of a diverse community and we are all struggling through health, economic and lifestyle changes," he said. "As community members, we all have a responsibility to care and respect one another. We will get through this together."
Farmington mayor says permit wasn't required to protest
Farmington elected leaders addressed some of the concerns highlighted in the petition during the City Council meeting on May 26, which was recorded and can be viewed on the city’s website, fmtn.org.
Duckett said the protesters did not apply for a permit for either the May 14 or May 21 rally. He said the city consulted with its attorney as well as the police chief and determined that city ordinances did not require the group to apply for a permit.
Duckett: 'That symbol has been used by individuals who are intolerant'
Duckett stressed that he could not speak for the man who brought the flag, but he does not condone the use of hate symbols.
“I know that this symbol has been used for other things throughout time, but I think all of us can identify, at least in the most recent history, that that symbol has been used by individuals who are intolerant,” he said.
Later, he told The Daily Times that "there's no place for the use of that symbol in our community" and that he doesn't want to ever see it used again.
Councilor Linda Rodgers said she was among the many people offended by the flag.
“It’s offensive, plain and simple,” she said.
Rodgers said she supports the right to peacefully protest, however she added that hate and racism do not have a place in Farmington.
County Commissioner Jim Crowley, who had attended at least one of the rallies, also condemned the use of the symbol.
"I completely condemn the use of Nazi symbolism," he said in an email. "The use of this symbol has totally overshadowed the true meaning of this event, which was to support our local businesses. Those gathered, did so to support the need for businesses to reopen and effectively save the economy of our county."
City leaders speak out against political polarization of pandemic
Rodgers also addressed the petition’s concerns with the way Farmington has handled the pandemic.
She said city officials have been doing their best in a situation that none of them could have prepared for.
“There’s not a book that we can go to and look for information,” she said.
Councilor Janis Jakino said she does not condone the political polarization that has occurred during the pandemic and she encouraged protesters to exercise better judgment.
“We’re all coping with this predicament in our own way and some better than others,” she said.
Duckett agreed with Jakino about the polarization.
"We will make it through this and we'll be stronger in the end of it and we will learn some stuff that we never thought we would ever learn in our lives," Duckett said. "We can do that humanely and we can do that civilly and it doesn't need to be anything that is divisive and politicized."
He said the politicization has been disturbing, including turning wearing or not wearing a mask into a political statement.
"I encourage people to do what they need to do for their health and the health of those around them," Duckett said. "I think that's the social contract that all of us need to consider right now as we move forward."
He said that there is a “social contract all of us need to consider right now.”
Duckett encouraged residents to follow the public health orders and take the steps needed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus so that the businesses can reopen.
He said the City Council is concerned about the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic and supports allowing businesses to reopen at 20% capacity, which he said is appropriate and just.
"We all agreed on that with the idea that individuals can shop small businesses in the same safe manner as they shop these big stores," he said during the City Council meeting.
On May 27, he said businesses in Farmington, San Juan County and across the nation will need to implement visible measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus in order for people to feel comfortable shopping there. Duckett said he is receiving emails from people concerned about the lack of those measures at local businesses.
Duckett commended the grocery store Albertsons for its efforts. He said when he shops there he has observed all employees wearing masks and the store has plexiglass shields and is wiping down all the carts and baskets in between uses.
Ultimately, Duckett said everyone has the same goal — "to get back to our lives in a safe and productive manner."
"We're all going to have to do something to get there," he said.
He encouraged people to wear masks, but also said there are people who, for health reasons, cannot wear masks. Duckett said people need to be gracious and not judge those who are not wearing a mask.
"The community needs to know that their elected officials are working hard to promote the priority of people's health," Duckett said.
Duckett said if people need assistance, including paying rent or shopping for food, they can call the 211 hotline.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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