Out in Des Moines, Iowa, William Stark lives a quiet life in a small home adjacent to the local elementary school. Mr. Stark is apparently something of an artist, displaying some of his rather unusual work around the exterior of his home. This has some of his neighbors, along with the teachers and students at the school concerned. The artwork in question is painted on wooden shipping pallets and it’s causing quite a bit of friction. It might not have been quite so bad if it was just Confederate flag images. But the swastikas really put the display over the top. (Fox 32 Chicago)
A homeowner living next to an elementary school in Iowa is facing backlash for painting Confederate battle flags and swastikas on pallets around his property. The symbols are clearly visible from the school.
“It’s a free country,” William Stark said. “I’ll put it out there if I want to.”
He added that people shouldn’t construe the painted pallets as racist.
Stark explains that people who think his display is racist simply “don’t know their history.” He fails to mention what specific portions of history would apply in this context.
Here’s the photo of his place from Fox 5 NY. See what you think.
Okay, enough sarcasm from me. Look, any of you who have been reading my work here over the years know that I don’t have a problem with people flying the Confederate Battle Flag. I realize that not everyone agrees, but it’s a symbol that’s become part of southern culture and isn’t just some sort of endorsement of slavery. And the descendants of the soldiers who fought and died in the civil war, along with their friends, families and communities, should be able to honor their memories.
So if William Stark just wanted to put up some Confederate flags, even right next door to a school, I wouldn’t be carping about it too much. Not everyone around his town would agree, of course, but if nothing else, it might spur constructive conversations at the school and in the community. But… swastikas? C’mon, man.
You shouldn’t need me to tell you that the swastika is always going to be linked to the Nazis. (And Stark even has the arms pointing the correct way so they can’t be confused with the Buddhist version.) I refuse to believe that Mr. Stark is unaware of Hitler’s legacy and the inherent racism, antisemitism and evil associated with that era. This is obviously an intentionally provocative presentation.
So what should be done about it? Well… nothing. It’s all on his own private property and there apparently aren’t any zoning codes in Des Moines forbidding such decorations. And as much as I hate to say it, Stark is correct when he speaks of free speech and this being “a free country.” We protect the most offensive speech far more vigorously than inoffensive speech.
Even if the city tried some legal means to force him to get rid of the pallets, he’d have a pretty solid First Amendment case if he wanted to fight them in court. And if he’s immune to the critical reactions and comments from his neighbors, there really isn’t much to be done about it.