Valdosta – Friday's Flag Rally felt a lot like a Fourth of July parade in April.
To organizers that was the point . They aspired to convene peacefully in support of the flag.
A permit was granted to gather across about a mile of street in front of the main entrance to the campus, just beyond where the flag was trampled on Monday. Valdosta Police were expecting upwards of 4000 people, calling this the largest crowd to gather in Valdosta since Bill Clinton spoke here in the nineties.
Valdosta Police called this a safe, controlled event. Officers had plenty of back up from an assortment of other law enforcement agencies. The campus of Valdosta State University closed for the day in anticipation of the crowd.
By the time the event wrapped around 3:30 p.m., police estimated 1000 people actually took part in the rally. All sorts of people participated including Valdosta State students, locals and outsiders who were outraged by the flag trampling they saw on the news. Their reasons for being here were as diverse as what the flag represents.
"When you live in the United States there should be liberty and justice for all, but when you step on the American flag that is like spitting in America's face," explained Jody Durham.
"I'm here straddling the fence. I feel like everybody has their right to do their protest," said Nicole Lee.
"It's not just the flag that unites us, it's our humanity. We should come together as a people, not just because this is our country, but we need to remember that maybe this other side did have some oppression," explained Alex Todd.
"This is about standing up for the flag. It's nothing political. It's not racial. It's about the flag," added David Harris.
"The media has portrayed my school to be a flag burning, America hating place but that's just not true," said Travis Grimes.
That sentiment inspired 11Alive to put pressure on the Valdosta Police Chief, asking "In hindsight could police have handled this in a way that would have avoided this controversy?"
"We got dealt with a difficult situation, and it was caused by two folks of opposing groups. One person did something that a lot of folks didn't like. And another person did something that a lot of folks didn't like. But we don't lock people up in this country for no reason. I don't think law enforcement did anything to cause this. It was those individuals who did things they should not have done to cause this. It's pretty clear to me that a lot of folks didn't like the fact that you can't walk on the flag, but that's not a crime," Chief Brian Childress replied.
The controversy has sparked a discussion on campus, and it's not just about flags. This all began with a race relations protest, and it came back to that topic once the flag rally wrapped.