SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of two civil rights groups in Utah are at odds when it comes to the American flag.
On July 4, the Utah Chapter of Black Lives Matter called the flag a symbol of hatred and racism in a Facebook post.
"When we Black Americans see this flag we know the person flying it is not safe to be around," the post read. "When we see this flag we know the person flying it is a racist. When we see this flag we know that the person flying it lives in a different America than we do. When we see this flag, we question your intelligence. We know to avoid you. It is a symbol of hatred."
The organization then attached a link to screenshots and recordings of death threats that the organization has received from "flag waving Americans."
The statement sparked controversy both locally and nationwide. BLM Utah also said they received an increase in threats following the post.
The local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), however, disagrees with BLM Utah's stance.
Jeanetta Williams, the president of the NAACP Utah State Conference, wrote the following statement:
"The NAACP does not agree with that statement and rejects the idea that flying the American flag is a racist message. The flag stands for all the people who have lived and served to bring about the best of the American Experience, that all people are created equal. Real American Patriots have stood for equality and justice for all. While we recognize that the history of our nation is marked with both failures and successes in the treatment of minorities, we know the way forward starts with respect and togetherness for all Americans. The flag represents the highest aspirations expressed from the founding of the Union, through the Emancipation Declaration, the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, the Enactment of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, to the millions of Americans who support their fellow citizens of all races, national origin, and color."
Lex Scott, the founder of BLM Utah, responded to the NAACP's statement with one of her own on Sunday:
"9 years ago I was on Facebook and I was watching people post about police brutality. Often with the caption "SMH" i got so frustrated that all that people were doing was typing instead of working. That is when I googled NAACP. I looked on their website. I found a phone number and I called that number. I left a message. I did not get a return call so I looked at their schedule of meetings. I showed up to their next meeting. That is the first time that I met Jeanetta Williams. I took John with me. I decided that I wanted to get involved. I went to a few meetings and I did not really feel like I fit there. I decided to still support them, but I also decided to start my own civil rights organization.
"Along the way over these 8 years this work in civil rights has been hard. It has been painful. Sometimes I have felt lost. I have wanted someone to mentor me. Someone to guide me. There is no handbook for civil rights. I wish that there was but there isn't.
"I have always tried to support the NAACP. I have told people to buy memberships. I have told people to support their work. I will continue to do that. On the hill when it came to police reform, Black Lives Matter and the NAACP have not agreed. We do not agree on the same police reform bills. We have been in many meetings together and many panels. We do not always agree.
"That is ok. What I will not tolerate is wh1te organizations pitting Black organizations against each other.
"This happens frequently. People are constantly trying to pit us against the NAACP. It is not right and I will not fall for it. The NAACP took the bait.
"Well I will not. I urge all of our members to still support the NAACP. I urge our members to buy memberships. I urge our members to support the work of Jeanetta Williams.
"The NAACP has done a lot of good work in the past. They do not like me, they do not like us. What they did today was hurtful. They have every right to their opinion. They have not had to be at protests with wh1te supremacists weaponizing the flag against them. They have more wh1te validation than we do. We do not play respectability politics here.
"We tell the truth. Straight no chaser. We also change the world.
"Jeanetta if you are reading this. Please know that I respect the work that you have done. You have every right to your opinion on the American flag. I stand by my words now more than ever. The amount of hate and death threats I have received is inhumane. People have told me that they will murder my family Jeanetta, over a piece of cloth. And they have proved my point. We said it was a symbol of hate and they came to spread hate. And you co-signed that hatred. It hurts, but please understand that I am not your enemy. The enemy is out there.
"I am not going anywhere Jeanetta. And the next time I see you understand that I am not angry with you. Again I must stress that I am not your enemy. You do not have to like me. You do not even have to work with me. But understand that I respect the civil rights work that you have contributed to this state.
"To the members here. Please do not allow the media to pit Black organizations against each other. Please continue to support the work and efforts of the NAACP. I mean that with my entire heart."
Kamaal Ahmad, another local civil rights activist, also voiced his disagreement with BLM Utah's stance.
"This group has gone too far. The American flag is not a symbol of hate," he wrote on Twitter. "BLM Utah does not speak for the black population in this state. It would be greatly appreciated if their leadership took ownership for their personal feelings, experiences, and personal views."