My Turn, Merry Overholser: Using the flag as weapon

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 21, 2022

Bell Tower Green has been such an asset to our community. It serves as a gem in the center of our city; free music concerts and movies, families picnicking, couples strolling, children and teens playing, an informal meeting place for small groups, the new home of inclusive and diverse festivals, a bucolic setting for monthly meditation and a peaceful place to escape and refresh for all.

BTG is an oasis in the midst of our oftentimes chaotic and divided world. Over the past couple of weeks that sense of tranquility has been altered by the presence of a group of individuals who gather at the main entrance of the park, at the corner of Innes and Church streets. Waving American flags of a variety of sizes, the most popular being the size of the ones spotted on pick-up trucks that also fly Confederate and Trump flags as they cruise throughout our city.

On two separate occasions I have approached the individuals asking why they feel the need to make such a display; their request to have a flag placed at the park is already on the city’s agenda and is a priority item for the newly formed park’s board to address. Their response has been statements like: “If it wasn’t for this flag, you wouldn’t even have a park.” “This is America, this is American land.” “Every other park has an American flag, so this one should too.”

I beg to differ, there are other parks and public spaces in Salisbury that do not fly a flag. The truth is, this runs much deeper than love of country. The divisiveness in our country has grown exponentially in the last several years and symbols such as the flag have been weaponized by hate groups and those who have supported The Big Lie. You know the one, that supposedly our last presidential election was rigged, but has been disproven a multitude of times.

For the record, I fully support our veterans; many of my family members have served in both the U.S. Army and Navy, I also worked as Program Coordinator for veterans reentering the work force. I am not saying that the individuals parked at the corner of Innes and Church belong to any of those groups but when I suggested that they present an intimidating appearance, due to the similarities of the trucks that drive around with oversized Confederate and Trump flags accompanying their American flags, I was asked if I supported Trump and was laughed at when I would not respond.

A man with a handgun strapped to his hip stomped from where he was standing on the sidewalk toward me and even though I asked him several times to move away from me it wasn’t until a couple of others who were wielding flags shouted at him to back off, that he finally did. I never raised my voice, but tried to engage in conversation, yet I was yelled at, had fingers shoved in my face and when I asked for him to stop, was told “No, I will not!”

This was clearly intimidation when I was trying to gain an understanding and engage in conversation.

Last week, I suggested that since they were standing there all day maybe they could grab some litter to help keep the park beautiful. Several refused but one man did take my offer of litter bags. Later, in the early evening, I drove by and while the flag-wavers were gone, my bags were still there, in a garbage can, unused.

Yes, this is the United States of America, but it’s not like the moon or unclaimed land that needs to be staked to indicate possession. The US of A does not have a great record of respecting other’s right to land or privacy anyway, regardless of the presence of a flag.

Merry Overholser lives in Salisbury.