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Vets Clash With Student Counter-Demonstators In Flag Protest

March 13, 1989

CHICAGO (AP) _ A hotly debated art exhibit that has a U.S. flag lying on a floor touched off a protest by about 2,500 veterans and supporters and a clash that led to the arrests of at least four, police said.

Before the scuffle, police arrested two men who described themselves as art students as they stenciled American flags on the sidewalks around the museum building. They were charged with criminal damage to property.

During Sunday’s demonstration outside the Art Institute of Chicago, a group of veterans attacked about a dozen students who were holding a counter- demonstration. They swung fists, threw hot coffee and shouted at the students to leave the country. Police intervened, and no one was injured.

Police said at least one veteran was arrested on battery charges and three students were charged with disorderly conduct. The confrontation was broken up after police led the students to a corner about two blocks away from the veterans, and kept the groups apart.

In front of the institute, the veterans, who came from at least nine states, chanted, ″One, two, three, four, get the flag off the floor.″

″I just think it’s a sin to have the flag on the floor,″ said Michael Boorsma, 38, a Vietnam veteran from suburban Batavia. ″It bothers me tremendously.″

Veterans also came from Wisconsin, West Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, Oklahoma, New York, Vermont, and Arkansas. They waved hundreds of flags, including some with the Revolutionary War motto ″Don’t tread on me.″

The demonstration was the biggest in a series of protests over a student art exhibit titled ″What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?″ The exhibit includes the flag lying on the floor beneath a shelf where visitors can write comments in two ledger books. Veterans contend that the placement of the flag invites viewers to step on it.

Student-artist ″Dread″ Scott Tyler said he had no apologies for his exhibit, which he described as revolutionary.

In the counter-protest, one of the art students carried a poster showing Adolf Hitler, Ayatollah Khomeini and Republican mayoral candidate Edward Vrdolyak, a supporter of the veterans’ protests, with the caption: ″Art Critic - Get rid of degenerate art.″

A second group of counter-demonstrators, about 20 primarily older artists, stood near the veterans under heavy police guard. They carried empty picture frames on sticks to show that the exhibit being protested was essentially ″empty″ of artistic merit, but that the right to free expression should be upheld, they said.

The exhibit, which includes art by 66 minority students, opened on Feb. 17.

Earlier this month, a judge rejected a lawsuit by veterans’ groups contending that the artwork desecrated the flag.

The gallery was opened to the public for a few minutes Sunday morning, but was closed after veterans repeatedly picked up the flag, said security guard Alicia Lloyd.

Update hourly