Incident at Pine Hill Cemetery

A crime may have been committed recently at the Pine Hill Cemetery in Auburn, Ala. Mary Norman, according to an Associated Press report, was visiting her family’s burial plot at the Pine Hill Cemetery when a man walked over and removed a flag from a grave, snapped it in two, and drove off.

The man, Arthur Dowdell, said that he did not break the flag intentionally but that it broke when he removed it from the grave. Dowdell, who is a city councilman in Auburn, admitted to the deed. In fact, there were other such flags in the cemetery and Dowdell said, “I should have broken them all.”

One wonders if the councilman understands the term, “vandalism.” For the sake of clarity, vandalism is defined as “willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property.”

The cemetery, it is to be presumed, is a public place, but the plots therein are private property purchased by families. They are, for most people, “sacred spaces,” where their relatives and loved ones have been laid to rest.

Dowdell willfully destroyed private property. He did, he said, because he was offended.

Mary Norman, whose relative’s grave the councilman violated, is the president of the Auburn Heritage Association and the grave contained the remains of her great-grandfather, a war veteran.

Does “being offended” give anyone a right to deface private property? There are a good number of bumper stickers that offend me, such as “@#%& Happens!”

Am I permitted to take a razor blade and scrape off every bumper sticker that offends me? May I spray paint over the offensive symbol, sported on a number of cars, of Calvin, a cartoon character, urinating? If my neighbor has a sign in his yard that indicates his support for a candidate of whom I disapprove, may I then, in my offended state, go on to his property, yank the sign out of the ground, break it, and walk off with it? If so, may I then destroy every sign that offends me?

If a church sign offends an atheist or someone who has been wounded by church people, do those people have the right to take a sledge hammer to the church sign? How about to the offensive church building itself?

If a person is offended by the military in this nation, may he then deface the flags being flown on the front porches of the veterans of the armed forces? If I fly a Marine Corps flag at my house, may a person offended by it come on to my porch, yank it up, break it, and walk away with no consequences?

If someone is anti-Semitic, are they permitted to deface Jewish temples and synagogues? If a person is offended by the presence of Muslims, may they deface their mosques or masjids? If someone flies a “rainbow” flag, indicating support of gay issues, should anyone be allowed to go on to the property and destroy the flag?

The answer of course is obvious. The councilman should know better. If a crime has been committed, Dowdell should be arrested and face the consequences. It doesn’t matter that he was offended — no one has a constitutional right to never be offended.

At the very least, Dowdell should realize that his actions set a bad example for the people who see him as a role model. The Auburn City Council passed a resolution denouncing his actions and urged him to make a public apology.

Dowdell did “apologize,” but said he still didn’t “feel bad” about what he did. Not much of an “apology,” but few will care.

The flag he destroyed, you see, was a Confederate flag, one of many, placed on the graves of the 173 Confederate veterans buried at Pine Hill Cemetery. The flags were placed, as they have been for decades, in observation of Confederate Memorial Day.

Some will feel, since the flag was a Confederate flag, an unpopular and politically incorrect symbol in the 21st century, that the councilman was justified in his actions. He was not.

On that day, he was just a vandal who admitted to “willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property.”

Such actions are not admirable, whatever the flag or symbol. City Councilman Robin Kelley said to Dowdell, “It’s desecration, what you did. End of discussion.”

Copyright 2008 – Fayette Publishing, Inc.

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