Opinion

A California parole officer put a Nazi flag on his wall. But it’s not what you think

A Sacramento man spotted a Nazi flag hanging on a wall in a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation office last week.

He took a video and it went viral. A local TV station broke the story. Newsweek and the Washington Post followed up, making it a national sensation.

Spoiler alert: This story is not what it might appear to be.

When Michael Johnson saw the flag through a street-level window at the CDCR building at 16th and T Streets, he thought it might be “a Halloween display in bad taste,” according to a story by CBS 13.

“Right there in front of me was a big giant red flag with a swastika on it and some large SS bolts,” said Johnson. “I just don’t think it’s the proper display for a street-facing window.”

Opinion

That’s a polite way of saying it. The display of such hateful symbols anywhere in a government office should result in shock, outrage and serious consequences.

Those responsible for the public display of Nazi regalia initially said was it was part of a training module for officers.

“Agents insist the flags and signs are items confiscated from Sacramento-area prisoners and parolees and shown to staff as a way to show the type of hate displays that are circulating in jails,” according to CBS 13.

Later, CDCR clarified that the offensive items were part of one parole officer’s personal collection of items confiscated in the course of their duties. The officer in question is not white.

“Our initial review of the facts shows that the employee responsible for hanging this flag is a person of color, and has no ties or affiliation with white supremacy or Nazis,” said a CDCR spokesperson. “The flag was seized property from a case ... We are conducting a full investigation into this matter, and are taking aggressive steps to ensure our employees are following policies. We will hold people accountable that are in violation of those policies.”

This appears to be a case of terrible judgment, not white supremacy – a fact CDCR might have clarified more quickly. Unfortunately, the viral story has given the rest of the country a terrible and inaccurate impression of our city and state. It will reach millions of people and likely strike a powerful chord with those who already distrust law enforcement due to a history of racism in the ranks.

Nazi symbols, for obvious reasons, express pure evil. They are an especially terrifying thing to see in a law enforcement office, especially since the FBI said in a 2006 bulletin that white nationalists and skinheads were trying to infiltrate law enforcement.

White supremacist leaders and groups have historically shown an interest in infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel,” according to an unclassified FBI bulletin.

In June, an investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting found that “Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook.”

People who hear about the Nazi flag hanging in the state parole office – without knowing the full context – may think it fits this pattern. But it doesn’t.

No, this is a story about an officer who made a shockingly terrible decision that brought national infamy upon his department. The officer surely regrets their inexcusable behavior and should be punished.

Those we entrust to enforce the law and represent justice on behalf of the state must exemplify good judgment, sensitivity and common sense. The decision to hang Nazi symbols on the walls of a state office displayed a glaring lack of all three.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments