A U.S. flag being flown upside down as a protest in a northern Wisconsin village was seized by police before a Fourth of July parade and the businessman who flew it, who happened to be an Iraq war veteran, is now claiming police officers trespassed and stole his property:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is considering legal action against the Village of Crivitz for violating Vito Congine Jr.’s First Amendment rights, Executive Director Chris Ahmuty said.
“It is not often that you see something this blatant,” Ahmuty said. “The fact that police on Independence Day of all days would come onto private property without permission and shut down his protest is very disturbing.”
In mid-June, Congine, 46, began flying the flag upside down – an accepted way to signal distress – outside the restaurant he wants to open in Crivitz, a village of about 1,000 people some 65 miles north of Green Bay.
He said his distress is likely bankruptcy because the village board refused to grant him a liquor license after he spent nearly $200,000 to buy and remodel a downtown building for an Italian supper club.
Congine’s upside-down-flag represents distress to him; to others in town, like the village president, it represents disrespect of the flag – especially when a community 20 miles away was mourning the death of a 19-year-old soldier killed in Afghanistan.
Just hours before a Fourth of July parade, four police officers went to Congine’s property and removed the flag under the advice of Marinette County District Attorney Allen Brey.
A day after the parade, police returned the flag and the man’s protest over a liquor license continued. Marinette County Sheriff Jim Kanikula said it was not illegal to fly the flag upside down but people were upset and it was the Fourth of July. “It is illegal to cause a disruption,” he said. “There were a lot of vets at that parade. You know how veterans react when they see that.” The Crivitz Village President, John Deschane, said removing the flag was the right thing to do, citing the fact that many in Crivitz believe it’s disrespectful to fly the flag upside down. “Don’t disrespect the flag,” Deschane said. “If he wants to protest, let him protest but find a different way to do it.” Vito Congine said he intends to keep flying the flag upside down, despite whatever opposition he might face.
While I understand the strong feelings evoked by demonstrations such as flying the U.S. flag upside down or burning the U.S. flag, such demonstrations are perfectly legal and Constitutionally-protected forms of speech. Sometimes we might not agree with what’s being expressed, but there’s a reason we have the First Amendment. If Vito Congine wants to fly his U.S. flag upside down on his property, then he should be able to do so, free from the interference of overreaching law enforcement officials.