Joshua Rhett Miller, AP, May 27, 2009
A flag fight is brewing in southern Florida.
Members of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP want the Confederate flag banned from the Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway, and they will meet Thursday to decide whether to boycott a NASCAR race slated there for November.
Debra Toomer, the branch’s chairwoman of press and publicity, said a planning session has been scheduled to decide on a course of action regarding the display of the flag at the Nov. 20-22 event, as well as its presence at city-sponsored events like last year’s Veterans Day parade.
But officials at NASCAR and the raceway say there’s little they can do to prevent spectators from displaying or waving the Confederate flag.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston told FOXNews.com that NASCAR’s “longstanding policy” prohibits displays of the Confederate flag on its cars, uniforms, licensed merchandise or in advertisements.
“You’re not going to see the flag or the symbol on any of those things,” Poston said. “It’s been that way for a very long time.”
Poston said NASCAR has not received any communication from NAACP officials, and he stressed that NASCAR is “removed” from the controversy since it does not own or operate the Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway.
Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway President Curtis Gray said spectators are not permitted to wave large flags of any sort in the stands because of safety concerns, and to prevent them from obstructing the view.
He said Confederate flag items are not sold or officially displayed throughout the 65,000-seat raceway, but there’s no official ban on spectators bringing miniature flags to the track, or wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the symbol.
” . . . we don’t regulate the lawful behavior of our fans or prohibit free speech and expression of our guests,” Gray told FOXNews.com. “We can’t tell people what to wear. Where do you start? Where does it end, as far as individual expression?”
Brandon Hensler, a spokesman for American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida chapter, said bringing a Confederate flag to the race or any public event would be protected speech.
Citing a “troubling racial discord” in Homestead, Fuller [Rosemary Fuller, a member of the NAACP’s Miami-Dade branch] told the South Florida Times that NAACP members are ready to protest and potentially boycott the season-ending race weekend if NASCAR officials fail to support the effort. NAACP members are also reportedly prepared to contact NASCAR’s sponsors if the auto racing league objects.
Chuck McMichael, commander in chief of Sons of the Confederate Veterans, a Tennessee-based group that promotes Confederate heritage, said the flag fight stems from last year’s Veterans Day parade when some attendees objected to Confederate Army uniforms and flags displayed by participants. As a result, some Greater Homestead/Florida City residents sought to have the organization banned from future events, McMichael said.
But any attempts to block Confederate flags at Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway will be met with “some action,” McMichael said, including the possibility of counter protests.