Published July 17, 2002
SAN FRANCISCO – On the streets of San Francisco’s Little Italy, some emblems of national pride are welcome — but not all. In fact, Old Glory is coming down just days after resident Ed Yee put them up.
"I took it upon myself to correct the situation and put American flags up on the poles; you know, the poles with the Italian flags," Yee said.
Yee is a patriot to some, but a vandal to the public works department, which has cited him for "defacing" more than 70 light poles and fined him $5,000.
"You just can't go around and start sticking things you know anywhere you want," said Mohammad Nuru, deputy director for the San Francisco Public Works Department. "This city will not tolerate that."
Nuru said Yee’s first mistake was posting the pennants without a permit; his second was allowing a TV news crew to cover his banner act – videotape that’s now a key piece of evidence.
But when everything from Nazi art to wet T-shirt contests are routinely posted without permission, merchant Mike Cresci wonders why the city is making an issue of displaying the stars and stripes.
"I think that the city just targets people randomly that they feel like [they] want to go after and they decide to go after," said Cresci, a North Beach deli owner.
San Francisco officials deny they're practicing selective law enforcement, saying the names and numbers on all those other fliers are difficult to validate. Yee refuses to pay the fine, but is now passing out bumper stickers instead.
"I want my day in court," Yee said. "I’m trying to get people to sign a letter to the mayor that we want to see some American flags in addition to the beautiful Italian flags in North Beach."
Minutes after city workers scraped off the flag outside Cresci’s deli, he put up Yee’s bumper sticker. There is no word yet on whether the shopkeeper will also be fined.
Flags sprouted up around the country on Sept. 11, in windows, on cars and on flagpoles that normally only donned the flag once or twice a year. Many have stayed up ever since.
But Yee is not the first to run into problems when attempting to put the red, white and blue more out in the open.
Earlier this month, Dayton, Ohio, resident Sidney Moore tried to fly the American flag on a flag pole outside his home, but the area housing association said the pole violated a homeowners' agreement.
Ohio legislators introduced a bill that would prevent homeowner associations from banning flagpoles at new homes. That measure passed the state House and will be taken up by the Senate in the fall.
The flag allegedly maddened California resident Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, who was shot to death by security guards at Los Angeles International Airport after he opened fire on an El Al ticket counter on July 4, killing two people.
Neighbors said Hadayet lived quietly, but became incensed when an upstairs neighbor hung large American and Marine Corps flags from a balcony above his front door after Sept. 11.
Another issue may be proper display of the banner. In June, the D.C. Housing Authority said that flying the flag upside down in protest or as a distress signal is a sign of incompetence and that in the war against terrorism, the act may be perceived as a sign of disrespect.
Fox News' Liza Porteus contributed to this report.