JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — An African-American police officer says he was fired, then rehired and suspended, after a verbal confrontation with people carrying Confederate-themed flags outside the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
Wardell Jackson told The Associated Press the confrontation happened Saturday, and that he was fired Monday from the Mississippi Capitol Police and re-hired Wednesday. He said he is suspended until the following Monday and is being moved from day shift at the museum to night shift inside the state Capitol.
Capitol Police protect state government buildings, including the museum that opened in December.
The Mississippi flag includes the Confederate battle emblem, and it has been the subject of intense public debate in recent years. Critics say they see the emblem as a racist symbol of slavery and segregation, while supporters say it represents Southern heritage.
Several people carrying the Mississippi flag and rebel flags were lining up behind the museum Saturday to participate in the Dixie National Rodeo parade, which made a loop through downtown Jackson. Most of the people with flags were white, but at least three were African-American.
Jackson said he tried to stop some from standing on a wall to take photos. Videos from that day show that Jackson repeatedly told people with flags that they could not block the driveway leading to the museum's parking garage.
"I was there to protect the property instead of letting people block the property," Jackson said Wednesday.
Steve Miller of Greenwood, Mississippi, was one of the flag supporters at the scene. He told AP in a separate interview Wednesday that flag supporters thought the officer was violating their civil rights by telling them to move off a public sidewalk by the museum.
"Our intentions were never to go protest the museum," Miller said. "The gentleman told them they could not take a picture on the sidewalk with the flag."
Jackson said paperwork he was given when he was fired Monday did not give a reason for the firing. However, he said the head of Capitol Police told him that his conduct Saturday was "unprofessional."
"I feel like I didn't do anything wrong," Jackson said.
Capitol Police would not discuss the case, referring all questions to the state Department of Finance and Administration, which handles hiring and firing. The department's spokeswoman, Chuck McIntosh, said he could not discuss a personnel matter.
Jackson said he was hired by Capitol Police in December, after working 21 years in other law enforcement jobs.
All eight of Mississippi's public universities and several cities and towns have stopped flying the state flag. Many of them have taken it down since the June 2015 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. A white man who had posed in photos glorifying the rebel flag was sentenced to death in the fatal shootings, which authorities contend were racially motivated.
Many of the people carrying the state flag outside the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum are supporting a ballot initiative that would add the current flag design to the state constitution to make it harder for elected officials to remove the Confederate emblem from the banner, Miller said.