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Senator urges censure over mask resembling Confederate flag

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Michigan senator says one of her colleagues should be censured after he wore a face mask resembling a Confederate flag to session.

Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, requested the censure during a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon, five days after the face mask pattern of Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, drew national attention.

Geiss also said the Senate should change its rules to prevent lawmakers from wearing similar symbols within the chamber.

A screengrab of WLNS video of Sen. Dale Zorn on the Senate floor in Lansing Friday, April 25, 2020.

"It is absurd that we have to put it in writing to not wear a Confederate flag or similar white supremacist regalia while in this body doing the work of the people," Geiss said. "But apparently, we do."

The Senate adjourned moments after the speech.

On Friday, Zorn told Lansing-based TV station WLNS that the red face covering with white stars inside of thick blue stripes was not the Confederate flag, but said he knew it “would raise some eyebrows.” The next day,  Zorn apologized.

"I did not intend to offend anyone; however, I realize that I did, and for that I am sorry," he said. "Those who know me best know that I do not support the things this pattern represents.

"My actions were an error in judgment for which there are no excuses and I will learn from this episode."

On Wednesday, Geiss called the situation a "very serious issue."

State Rep. Erika Geiss speaks about opioid addiction to 9th grade students at Truman High School in Taylor on Thursday October 19, 2017

"We cannot make progress or change by ignoring issues of race or by tolerating examples of hatred," Geiss said.

Zorn should be censured for his "willing adornment of a Confederate flag pattern on a face mask to a meeting of this body," she said. The symbol had been used "to intimidate, harass and terrorize black people and our communities," she said.

She added that immediate action "must be taken on this matter given that five members of the chamber, multiple staff members and our lieutenant governor are of African descent."

Zorn didn't immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment on the speech. He wasn't sitting in his normal seat on the Senate floor during it and a reporter couldn't determine if he was in the chamber.

Also Wednesday, Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, introduced a bill to ban the Confederate flag from being displayed on the Capitol grounds or in the Capitol building.

"This building and our Capitol grounds represent the values, morals and conscience of Michiganders," Santana said in a statement. "There simply isn’t a need to allow such a divisive symbol to be used as a prop to knowingly, and purposefully, provoke anger and intimidation where we as legislators are all working together toward the common good for all Michiganders."

Earlier this month, during a protest against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order, multiple demonstrators outside the Capitol carried Confederate flags.