Antiwar protesters trash 9/11 memorial & American flags burned and slashed
By Debbie Pfeiffer Trunnell, Staff Writer
LA HABRA # Antiwar protesters burned and ripped up flags, flowers and patriotic signs at a Sept. 11 memorial that residents erected on a fence along Whittier Boulevard days after the terrorist attacks in 2001 and have maintained ever since.
However, although officers witnessed the vandalism Saturday afternoon, police did not arrest three people seen damaging the display because they were “exercising the same freedom of speech that the people who put up the flags were,’ La Habra Police Capt. John Rees said Monday.
“For this to be vandalism, there had to be an ill-will intent,’ he said.
Rees said in order for police to take any action, the owner of the fence would have to file a complaint.
Jeff Collison, owner of The RV Center in La Habra, who has allowed residents to add patriotic symbols to the fence on his property, said he just might do that.
“Their free speech stops at destruction of private property. If they are allowed to come on my property and burn flags, does that mean I can go to City Hall or the police station and light their flags on fire because that is freedom of speech? To me, this is vandalism,’ Collison said.
Some residents Monday hung signs criticizing those who destroyed the display.
Tracey Chandler, a Whittier mother of four who has maintained the spontaneous memorial since it was created by other area residents soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said she was shocked by the destruction.
“They trashed 87 flags, ripped 11 memorial tiles made by myself and my children out of the ground and glued the Bob Dylan song to a sign that said, ‘America, land of the brave, home of the free,’ ‘ she said.
The Bob Dylan song she referred to is “With God on Our Side,’ an antiwar anthem of the 1960s.
“It’s unbelievable, because there were absolutely no political messages on this fence. It was all about supporting our troops, which could mean bringing them home, and about remembering 9-11.’
Les Howard, a sociology professor at Whittier College, said the incident might be an indication of some confusion among people trying to stop a possible war against Iraq but uncertain how to express their sentiments. However, he said he does not condone the destruction of symbols important to those who erect them.
“Some think (the best way to support the troops) is to not question their role. Some think the best way is to pursue all means possible to avoid putting them in danger,’ he said. “That still does not excuse any desecration of people’s symbolic participation.’
Chandler said she plans to rebuild the Sept. 11 memorial.
“We are going to rebuild this memorial, and it will be brighter, bigger and better than ever,’ Chandler said.