As some Southern officials have called for removing Confederate battle flags in the wake of last month’s mass shooting at a black church in South Carolina, Wild Bill’s Old West Trading Co. in Elk Grove has done the opposite.
The gun shop on June 25 raised the Confederate flag on a small flagpole above its store entrance in what was described as a collective decision by store employees. Though Wild Bill’s has since moved its controversial display inside and flown the American flag out front, more than 20 protesters and supporters gathered Friday in front of the store on East Stockton Boulevard.
Protesters objected to the timing of the flag display and said it was not relevant to California. They accused the store of trying to incite people by flying the Confederate flag soon after the South Carolina incident.
“We don’t want people in Sacramento to feel threatened or intimidated by a hateful flag which has nothing to do with California,” said Tanya Faison, founder of Incite Insight, the advocacy group that organized the protest.
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Displaying the flag was a collective decision among the store workers to exercise free-speech rights, said Jake Shockley, assistant manager of Wild Bill’s.
“We’re not in favor of what happened in South Carolina or anything like that,” Shockley said. “What this is about is our First Amendment right to fly the flag.”
On Friday, the Confederate flag hung from a rafter inside the store next to a Miller Beer sign. Shockley said business at the store has been booming since the battle flag was displayed outside. He also said the store has received phone threats. One caller threatened to burn the store down, he said.
“We decided to fly the flag outside because we’re not going to let people take away our rights,” Shockley said. “They’re already taking the TV show ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ off TV because of the flag. They’re taking down everything because of the flag.”
Wild Bill’s sits near Highway 99 on the southern edge of Elk Grove, a city of 162,000 that has become one of the most diverse suburbs in the Sacramento region. According to 2010 census data, 11 percent of residents are African American, 46 percent are white, 26 percent are Asian American and 18 percent are Latino.
The protest threatened to get heated when the pro- and anti-flag demonstrators met face to face for the first time. Elk Grove police arrived to direct them away from the parking lot. In the end, it proved a low-key affair.
The flag has been the subject of much debate after the June 17 killing of nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Dylann Roof, who was arrested and charged in the slaughter, was shown with the Confederate flag in photos and said he was motivated by race.
Some Southern leaders have called for public agencies to remove the flag, most notably South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who said it should come down from the statehouse. South Carolina lawmakers agreed last month to vote on the flag’s removal, a decision that could come as soon as next week.