Police watchdog to investigate photos of SPD vehicles adorned with Gadsden flags

Oct 19, 2021, 8:04 AM | Updated: 11:05 am
Gadsden flag...
An SPD vehicle adorned with a Gadsden flag, in a protest against the city's vaccine mandate. (The Jason Rantz Show, KTTH)
(The Jason Rantz Show, KTTH)

Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability is opening an investigation into photos that circulated on social media over the weekend of Seattle Police Department vehicles adorned with Gadsden flags.

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On Sunday night, KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show posted three photos of SPD vehicles with the Gadsden flag draped across their sides, reportedly in protest of the recently implemented COVID vaccine mandate for city employees.

SPD reported on Twitter the next day that it had forwarded those photos to the OPA for an investigation. It also sent along claims on social media that SPD officers had been “honking and giving thumps up” in support of a protest against the vaccine mandate that took place in front of City Hall on Monday.

SPD’s employee conduct policy states that officers cannot use City facilities for “political purposes,” or use “their City position to endorse or oppose a candidate or ballot issue.”

The Gadsden flag’s history dates back to before the Revolutionary War, with the first iteration rumored to have been drawn by Benjamin Franklin in 1754. It first appeared as a drawing of a segmented snake, where each piece represented an American colony. In that original version, it read “Join, or Die.”

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In 1775, it evolved into the more well-known version often seen today, after South Carolina politician Christopher Gadsden made it into a flag featuring a coiled snake with the phrase “Don’t Tread On Me.”

In the decades and centuries since, it’s taken on a variety of meanings, and was even flown on U.S. Navy ships in the 1970s in celebration of the U.S. bicentennial. It’s also drawn controversy, though, over Gadsden’s status as a slaveowner, as well as its adoption by select white supremacist groups. More recently, it’s become a commonly used symbol among right-wing groups, and was prominently flown by many in attendance at the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

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Police watchdog to investigate photos of SPD vehicles adorned with Gadsden flags