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2,500 Vets Protest To Get Flag Off Floor, Fight With Students Erupts

March 13, 1989

CHICAGO (AP) _ About 2,500 veterans and supporters from nine states marched Sunday at the Art Institute of Chicago to demand that officials remove a U.S. flag placed on the floor in an art student’s exhibit.

At one point, participants in the most recent of a series of protests attacked about a dozen students holding a counterdemonstration, swinging fists and throwing hot coffee. Police intervened, and no one was injured.

A veteran and four students were arrested, said Police Officer Mark Halco.

The veteran was charged with battery; two students were charged with disorderly conduct and the other two were charged with criminal damage to property for painting flags on the sidewalk in an effort to force demonstrators to walk on the flag, Halco said.

Police led the students to a corner two blocks away from the demonstrators and surrounded them with barricades.

The flag-waving protesters, led by local politicians and leaders of veterans groups, chanted, ″One, two, three, four, get the flag off the floor.″

″This symbol of our nation, it is sacred. It cannot be desecrated,″ Tom Stack, organizer of the protest. ″The First Amendment has limits.″

Another group of about 20 counterdemonstrators, primarily artists from the Chicago area, stood nearby under heavy police guard. They carried empty picture frames on sticks, which they said showed the exhibit being protested was essentially ″empty″ of artistic merit, but that the rights of artists to free expression should be upheld.

″This is a misguided protest,″ Barry Casilly, 31, said of the veterans’ protest. ″They’re trampling all over everything the flag stands for.″

The flag, part of an exhibit of 66 minority artists’ work, features the Stars and Stripes positioned in such a way that viewrs are likely to step on it. The work also shows photos of flag-draped coffins and South Koreans burning the flag.

Protests began about a week after the exhibit, titled ″What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?″ opened Feb. 17. Veterans and others have tried several times to remove the flag. A Circuit Court rejected a lawsuit contending the work desecrates the flag.

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

Student artist ″Dread″ Scott Tyler on Saturday called his exhibit revolutionary, and said he had no apologies.

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

Veterans came to the demonstration from Illinois, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, Oklahoma, New York, Vermont, and Arkansas. The crowd overflowed from the sidewalk in front of the building, closing busy Michigan Avenue.

State Sen. Walter Dudycz, who has demonstrated against the work at the School of the Art Institute almost daily since the controversy began, said he would co-sponsor legislation to toughen laws against desecrating the flag.

The Republican lawmaker and GOP mayoral candidate Edward Vrdolyak distributed a list of corporate sponsors of the Art Institute, and urged a letter-writing campaign to pressure them into cutting off funding.

″We want them to know their money is supporting an institution that is desecrating the American flag,″ Dudycz said.

Vietnam veteran Terry Hueser, 43, burned his Art Institute membership card and said he would no longer support the institution.

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