NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- New Rochelle Council Member Jared Rice filed a criminal complaint last Spring alleging Racially Biased Harassment amidst controversy over a Gadsden Flag, Talk of the Sound has learned.
The flag controversy has received national media attention with stories in the New York Times, USA TODAY, MSNBC and Fox News Channel, among others.
The controversy began after the City of New Rochelle removed a Gadsden Flag at the request of Rice.
The flag, a yellow flag with a snake and the words "Don't Tread on Me", was raised last March at the Naval Militia Armory during a flag retirement ceremony by the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association, a local veterans group charged by the City for decades to be responsible for all memorial and patriotic displays in the City.
The veterans contend the flag is a historic military flag and appropriate for the venue. The two Republicans on City Council have supported the veterans, pointing out that the Gadsden Flag, along with a variety of other military flags, have routinely been flown at City parades and memorial events.
Opponents point out that the flag has been prominently displayed at Tea Party rallies.
Rice, along with other Democrats on the City Council, opposed the flag have done on the grounds that the flag is a "Tea Party flag" and that intention of the United Veterans organization is to make a political statement in support the Tea Party.
Some political observers contend that the Gadsden flag issue was a faux-controversy stirred up by New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson with Rice as his sock-puppet as part of Bramson's effort to replace Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. At the time, Bramson was seeking the Democratic Party nomination against County Legislator Ken Jenkins, who is black, and the ploy was seen as a way to shore up Bramson's civil rights bona fides among Jenkins supporters whom Bramson was going to need going into the general election in November.
Bramson was soundly defeated by Astorino, now on the verge of formally announcing a run to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo.
When the City Council voted along partisan lines to remove the flag, Rice, who is African-American, was the most outspoken in his opposition to the flag.
Rice took credit for making the original complaint about the flag, stating that the flag was divisive because it "represented a brand of politics that is very offensive to many people in America and many people in New Rochelle."
The flag has remained down. The Veterans have a lawsuit pending in Federal Court to raise the flag. City officials were told by their outside counsel that defending the City in the lawsuit brought by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of United Veterans will cost the City over $500,000.
According to police records, Rice filed a complaint on April 16th, 2013 alleging Aggravated Harassment (Racially Biased Harassment) after receiving voice mails from an unknown male caller.
The unknown male caller referred to Rice as a "stupid f----ing Nazi" and "a stupid fucking ----- ----- as they come" (sic) and "no wonder why your ancestors sold each other as slaves."
Rice told police he wanted to pursue criminal charges against the person who left the voice messages.
During this time Rice also met with the Executive Board of the NAACP New Rochelle Branch where Rice revealed that he had received the racially charged communications.
A week after Rice filed the criminal complaint, the NAACP New Rochelle Branch sent a letter to New Rochelle City Manager Charles B. Strome urging the City Manager and Police Commissioner to "immediately conduct a thorough investigation to identify the source of these racially charged attacks which pose an imminent threat to Council Member Rice and his family's personal safety".
Ron Williams, President of the NAACP New Rochelle Branch, attributed the voice mail to the Gadsden Flag issue.
Williams stated that Rice was "targeted" despite other comments made by his fellow City Council colleagues regarding their opposition to the flying of the Gadsden Flag at the New Rochelle Armory.
"We find these attacks and threats directed at Jared are disrespectful, dangerous, and demonstrate strong
sentiments of racism towards one of our City's African American leaders," wrote Williams.
"This flagrant use of speech is repugnant and distasteful. Hate speech has no place in political discourse. The City of New Rochelle is a diverse, tolerant community which we all strive to maintain. New Rochelle NAACP has historically represented and advocated for any and all residents. This includes Council Member Rice, who has been targeted based on race, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic factors."
City Manager Strome responded in a letter dated May 2nd.
Dear Mr. Williams:
I write in response to your April 24th letter relative to Council Member Rice and the racially charged communications he has received as a result of his comments pertaining to the Gadsden Flag issue. I am in complete agreement that these comments are disrespectful, dangerous and demonstrate strong sentiments of racism towards Council Member Rice.
Please rest assured that the City and its police department take this issue very seriously and conduct a thorough investigation of this matter (sic).
In addition to the NAACP letter, Rice sought support from African-Americans for a press conference on the steps of City Hall to denounce the United Veterans by holding them responsible for the racially-charge voice mails.
Rice did not receive support within the African-American community.
Hearing of Rice's efforts to blame them for the voice mails, the United Veterans issued a pre-emptive statement:
STATEMENT BY UNITED VETERANS MEMORIAL & PATRIOTIC ASSOCIATION ON HATE SPEECH
Veterans stand with New Rochelle Council Member Jared Rice in opposing hateful rhetoric
NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association of New Rochelle, NY has issued the following statement:
We were disappointed to learn that New Rochelle Council Member Jared Rice has received some truly offensive, racially motivated communications in response to national media accounts of his desire to have the Gadsden flag removed from the flag pole at the New Rochelle Armory.
Whatever our disagreements may be over the Gadsden Flag or the Armory itself, we stand with Councilman Rice as New Rochelleans in condemning hate speech of any kind, directed at anyone, for any reason. Hate speech has no place in our political discourse.
Veterans across our country served, fought and, in some cases died or suffered grave wounds, to protect and defend our Constitution and our way of life.
That includes the right of the United Veterans of New Rochelle to fly a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag at the Armory and the right of Jared Rice to oppose their decision to do so.
Rice's criminal complaint was referred to the Westchester County District Attorney's Office which determined that the voice mail messages did not violate the Aggravated Harassment Statute.
The Detective in charge of the case, who is also black, advised Rice that police would not be able to pursue charges on the caller and the case would be closed.