Rudy Ripley stared at the sick and tattered remnants of his patriotic pride hanging limply Sunday morning from the roof of his Park Place home. He was one of about 10 people whose flags were thrown "like javelins" into dirty, late-winter snow, cavalierly ripped from roofs or stolen.
"Whoever did this is a real slime bag and, in this case I'd say, un-American," said Ripley, 68 and a retired printer. "I'm not the kind of person that goes around beating his chest with patriotism, but I have every right in the world to fly my flag. I just want to know what lowlife would do something like this."
Police have received at least four calls since Sunday about missing or damaged flags from Hummingbird, Thunder and Park Place Streets, Lt. Walt Boman said.
Park Place resident Barbara Griffin, 68, said she noticed at least five additional flags missing from her street, including her own.
"I take this as almost like a hate crime," said Griffin. "It's one thing to vandalize somebody's property; this was like vandalizing America itself."
Police believe most of the thefts and vandalism occurred Saturday night. Boman said he can't speculate about whether the crimes were committed by more than one person. He also had no information about the motive.
"We just don't have enough evidence that this was politically motivated or why someone would do this," said Boman. "I went back in our records for the last two weeks and there's been no other reports of these kind of vandalisms. Frankly, I've never seen this many flags stolen at one time from a residential area."
Griffin said even though it's possible these crimes were politically motivated as a war protest, the vandals picked on the wrong people.
"I don't fly my flag for political reasons," Griffin said. "I'm patriotic, but that doesn't mean I always think America makes the right decisions. People might think that because I fly my flag I'm a hawk and gunning for war. I'm a senior citizen. I've already been through a few of them, and believe me, I wouldn't like to see another one."
Griffin said flying a flag was her way of expressing herself. She said she started flying it continuously after Sept. 11, 2001, and it took on even more meaning following the space shuttle disaster.
"We didn't know anybody in those buildings (World Trade Center) and we didn't know any of the people that died on the Columbia, but this was our way of showing that we were behind them and thinking of them," Griffin said.
Boman said the police are taking the crimes very seriously. He said they discussed the vandalism during a briefing and officers have been told to watch for anything suspicious while patrolling the areas hit over the weekend.
If caught, the vandal or vandals could face state as well as federal misdemeanor charges for defacing the flags. If convicted of a federal offense, the crime is punishable by up to one year in a federal prison and a $1,000 fine.
Police are encouraging anyone with information about the vandalism and thefts to call them at 586-0600.
Melanie Plenda can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.