By Anna Young
With recent actions by NFL players stirring national debate, hundreds of Putnam residents joined county officials in Cornerstone Park in Carmel Sunday morning to pay tribute to the American flags along Lake Gleneida shore.
With dozens of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem in protest against racial inequality, police brutality and President Donald Trump this season, County Executive MaryEllen Odell called the rally to take a stand against the disrespect she feels is being displayed throughout the country.
She argued standing for the anthem honored those American soldiers that have fought for the country’s freedom.
“For more than 200 years our flag has been the symbol of our nation’s strength and unity and it certainly is a source of pride, but also inspiration,” Odell said. “When our national anthem is played we stand for respect for those who fought and can no longer stand.”
County Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino agreed, adding that showing respect for the flag shouldn’t be complicated.
“We stand for our flag and our national anthem to show respect and acknowledge our freedom and liberties in their most simplistic form,” Nacerino said.
Throughout the demonstration, attendees proudly waved their American flags, chanting, “U.S.A,” and sported stickers stating, “Putnam County Stands up for America.” The Carmel Rams youth football team was also in attendance, with one player picking up flags that had fallen due to the wind.
While a majority in attendance joined in solidary during the National Anthem, few resident took a knee, including Patterson resident Andrew Falk. Falk criticized Trump’s handlings of both the August tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia where white nationalist held an ugly rally leading to one young woman’s death and his explicit comments demanding NFL owners fire players who disrespect the flag.
“When Donald Trump says that people who were protesting in Charlottesville are ‘very fine people’ and he says that black athletes who are kneeling are ‘sons of bitches,’ then what I say is that I’d rather kneel with ‘sons of bitches’ than stand with ‘very fine people,’” Falk, who commended the sheriff’s department for its professional work during the rally, said. “My kneeling stems from solidary with people who don’t look like me who feel they don’t have justice in America and that’s what our flag stands for, it stands for the values of freedom of speech, and justice and equality and when people don’t have it I will dissent in solidarity with those people.”
While kneelers didn’t deter the patriotism displayed during the demonstration, Mahopac resident Joe Ramere believes that any action against the flag is un-American. There was some tension between those that chose to stand and others that took a knee.
“I feel very disheartened, I stopped watching the NFL completely because they don’t deserve my time,” Ramere said. “Those people who are kneeling are traitors to America.”
“Political issues are political issues, but respect for the flag is our being and our existence here,” said Carmel veteran Art Kiernan. “We were brought up to respect the flag. Kneelers can do whatever they want, they’re not important.”
Odell also added the importance of setting a good example for the next generation so they cherish and protect values like freedom, equality, and justice.
“We will always stand and honor the American flag and our veterans and our first responders in Putnam County and we do it as a responsibility to the next generation so they do not take for granted the rights that they have,” she said.