UPD officer causes confusion over state flag regulations on USM campus

UPD officer causes confusion over state flag regulations on USM campus
photo credit: WDAM
photo credit: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - There was uproar on The University of Southern Mississippi's campus after protesters said a university police officer told them to take down the state flag Sunday afternoon.

The protesters said the officer asked them to take down the flag from their car that was parked on campus.

"I said, 'the state flag has to come down?' and he said, 'yes per orders of Doctor (President Rodney) Bennett that state flags are not allowed on the campus,'" protester Kimberly  Craven said.

Every Sunday, a group of state flag supporters gather at Southern Miss to protest the university's decision to take down the flag last fall.

"To me, it's symbol of courage and it just reminds me of a time when people have the courage to stand up to the government," Craven said.

WDAM 7 News reached out to Southern Miss, and David Tisdale with the USM Office of Communications said there is no such order, and flags are allowed on campus.

The university released this statement:

"The University of Southern Mississippi supports the right to lawfully and peacefully protest on or in front of the Hattiesburg campus with regard to the state flag. Any information leading individuals to believe otherwise is inaccurate."

However, this small mistake could cause some problems for USM.

"The fact that a police officer told them that they had to remove that flag is enough to create the basis of the lawsuit," Hattiesburg lawyer Alexander Ignatiev said.

Ignatiev said protesters can do this because the officer violated their freedom of speech.

"Flags are a protected type of speech and fundamentally a public university doesn't have the ability to restrict what type of flag was shown," Ignatiev said.

Despite this mix-up, supporters said they will continue to protest at the university to stand up for what they believe in.