SUMMERLAND (NEWS 1130) — When Summerland Mayor Toni Boot found out Confederate flag merchandise was being sold at a local dollar store, she decided to purge it from the town in a demonstration against racism.
On Saturday, Boot sat on the steps outside the shop with two friends, cutting and ripping 30 bandanas emblazoned with the symbol into shreds before throwing them in the trash.
“I decided before I went to the store that I was going to purchase all of the merchandise and destroy it,” Boot says. “That particular merchandise was not going to be sold again.”
That action came on the heels of a week-long reckoning with racism in the small Okanagan town that began with the windows of a South Asian family’s home being smashed, and the exterior vandalized with racist graffiti.
“They were very fearful and shocked and shaken by this, but if the Lekhi family had not reached out to the media, then this whole incident would not have come to light the way that it has,” Boot explains.
“It would have been a very private RCMP investigation, and they did what — in my opinion — has been the most amazing and courageous thing in bringing this out, even though they were feeling violated.”
At an anti-racism rally staged in support of the family Thursday, a truck displaying a Confederate flag was spotted.
Boot says police were called, and when they found the man who was visiting from Alberta he asked to meet with Boot so he could apologize.
“I said you’re welcome to come back into our town and spend your money here, but if you’re going to carry a Confederate flag and display it while you’re here then don’t even bother because you’re not welcome here if that’s the case,” Boot says.
But when the man told Boot he purchased the flag in her town, she decided to confront the store’s owner.
When she went to the store she was met with some “rigmarole” from the employee who denied the store was selling flags.
“I went back and said I really want to talk to the owner, I want him to tell me face to face that he doesn’t have any Confederate flags,” she says.
Although the store was not selling flags, Boot says they did stock large bandanas with the symbol of American slavery and anti-Black racism.
“The store owner said he didn’t understand what the Confederate flag was all about. I informed him and he said, ‘The reason I bring them into the store is because people want them.'”
“I said, ‘Oh do you give them away?’ And he said, ‘No I sell them.’ I said, ‘So, you’re profiting off of this racist material, and you are in Summerland doing this?”
She offered to buy the flags, but says the owner ultimately gave them to her.
“I sat out on the steps and made the very public statement of cutting and ripping the flags into pieces as did the two friends that were with me, and then we threw them away.”
Boot says since the targeting of the Lekhi family home earlier this week she has seen an outpouring of support for them and a widespread willingness to stand up against racism.
A GoFundMe campaign to paint a permanent mural with an anti-racist message in the town of Summerland met its $10,000 fundraising goal within hours.
“It’s proof that there is a lot more love in this community than hate,” Boot says.
“Of course there are those people that don’t support me and I’ve been receiving some threats and some pretty nasty email today. But I’m just passing those along to the police if I feel threatened or intimidated.”
She keeps a friend’s advice in mind whenever she encounters opposition.
“Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t respond to the haters because the haters are going to hate. Keep working on behalf of your whole community because really, what happened to this family has impacted our whole community.”
A special meeting called for Monday, July 20th will discuss how Summerland’s elected leaders can create space to have community conversations on racism.
With files from Kareem Gouda