The social-justice flag displayed by Desert Collection homeowner Chris Wilson.

The right of all Americans to freely express their views has been at the forefront of our nation’s consciousness over the last turbulent year.

However … while the government is not allowed to limit speech (with some exceptions), private entities are (with some exceptions)—and that’s been a tough lesson for Chris Wilson, who lives in the Desert Collection neighborhood in Indio.

Wilson, who said he has owned his family’s home there since 2016, received a “final notice” warning from his homeowners’ association board via the community’s managing agent, WhiteStar Management, on Jan. 27. At issue was Wilson’s display of a social-justice advocacy flag, which says: “Science is real. Black lives matter. No human is illegal. Love is love. Women’s rights are human rights. Kindness is everything.”

Wilson said the “final notice” email, which claimed the neighborhood allows only the U.S. flag and military flags, had been preceded by a phone call from Monique Kerrigan, the community manager who works at WhiteStar Management, on Jan. 18—which just so happened to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“That flag had been up for a good six months,” Wilson told the Independent in a recent phone interview. “But it just so happened that a night or two before I got the phone call, it had been stolen. Someone decided to take it from our property. I had a family member with the same exact flag that I had purchased for them, so they brought their flag over. I put it right back up within 24 hours. Then, I got that phone call the next day, which was MLK Day. The timing of this whole thing is just really suspicious.”

Desert Collection is a gated community. “That (theft) had to be committed by a guest staying at somebody’s house, or it was someone who lived in the neighborhood,” Wilson said.

Wilson—who works in special education for a local school district—said that during that Jan. 18 phone call, Kerrigan told him that she couldn’t find the rule that the flag violated, “but that it was told to her that that’s what the rule is.

“She’s a very nice lady who’s been really polite through (all of our dealings) in the last few years that we’ve been in the community,” Wilson said. “But she made another comment saying, ‘I’m just trying to make everybody happy.’ So that kind of caught my attention. Is it a rule, or is it not a rule? Or are you trying to make some people happy who have other views, especially considering the political climate that we’re in right now? They’re opposed to what’s displayed on my flag, which is about equality for all people.

“So I haven’t found the rule. I responded to her email and asked for the exact rule or regulation, and I said I want the minutes from the meeting where that rule was ratified. I haven’t gotten a response yet.”

“It sounds like I have neighbors whose views I do not agree with, and actually find disturbing. Like I said, with the political climate the way it is right now, staying silent just lets this kind of stuff keep proliferating.”

indio homeowner chris wilson

The Independent reached Kerrigan and asked for a copy of the homeowners’ association’s published CC&Rs (aka the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions) that the flag violated. She declined to provide such documentation to an “outside source,” but said she would provide a copy to Wilson, and that he could pass it on to the Independent. When I mentioned that Wilson said he had already requested from her the very same document, along with the minutes of the meeting when the regulation was adopted, and that he had not received anything, Kerrigan assured me that Wilson would get a copy.

However, as of this writing, Wilson said that has not happened.

“I gave her fair warning,” Wilson said. “I told her that I’m not willing to stay quiet about this issue, and it sounds like I have neighbors whose views I do not agree with, and actually find disturbing. Like I said, with the political climate the way it is right now, staying silent just lets this kind of stuff keep proliferating.”

Had Wilson received any negative comments from his neighbors regarding the flag? “My neighbor across the street, the whole family, saw me put it up initially, and they were actually like, ‘We love your flag. Where did you get it?’” Wilson said. “So that was nice. For the most part, with the neighbors who I get to see on a day-to-day basis, and those who live next to me, there are no issues.”

Nonetheless, in a follow up call with the Independent, Wilson said he told Kerrigan that he would indeed take the flag down—even though he hadn’t yet, as of the call.

Why? He explained that he said he’d do so because he could not afford a $500 fine—much less a potential lien against his property—for not complying with the yet-to-be-revealed regulation against flying any flags other than an American flag or a military flag.

It’s just yet another reminder that freedom, in fact, is not always free.

Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, more than a year after he and his wife moved from Los Angeles...

11 replies on “Freedom Isn’t Free: An Indio Man Displayed a Social-Justice Flag Outside His Home for Months—and Then His Homeowners’ Association Got Involved”

  1. I have same flag it much smaller on a stake in my front yard. I got from my attorney cousin. It is wonderful. Keep it up. Won’t give Name. Don’t want to hear about it from my HOA. Good luck.

  2. Yeah Whitestar is wrong. You can have a sign as long as it is under 9 sq feet. Flag on the house may change the law a little, but a sign on the lawn, you are good to go and they cannot touch it.

  3. Even if they have a rule, it’s probably in violation of CA law. CC&Rs can’t “trump” freedom of speech in a reasonable display. If they allow an American flag of the same size, then this one should be legal too.

  4. The story in it’s entirety is not being told here. Anyone who lives in an HOA knows there are rules established. Although we may not like them all, it is up to us to read our CC&R’s. Mr. Wilson had offensive political signs in his yard prior to the incident he claims has taken place. I am all for free speech and supporting what you believe when it is done respectfully. It cannot be a one way street. Mr. Wilson’s sign were vulgar in nature. If memory serves me correctly one of them referred to a candidate as an STD. The CC&R’s do contain a clause about offensive content. Article 11.10 and 11.17. Please read them Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson also painted BLM on his driveway in black paint.

    Before anyone goes on the attack here, my views are down the middle. My family is from all different races and backgrounds. People are allowed free speech and their beliefs. Where Mr. Wilson is correct is that freedom is not free for him or people who do not necessarily agree or align with his views. This cancel culture and attack culture we live in is dangerous. When people do not tell the truth and only share what is self serving to their agenda is danger.

    In a world with so much hate and fear let’s all behave like adults, own our mistakes, and be better people. I hope for the neighborhoods sake we can be respectful and considerate to one another even if we may not see political views the same.

  5. “ANONYMOUS” (be brave and stand by your comments who are you) The signs were up for months as well as the flag. The political sign read “STD Stop The Donald”
    The other sign Read “You Can’t Fix Stupid but you can vote it out” In reference to the BLM was in chalk paint yes on my drive way, after the flag was taken it was written has since been removed. Is BLM offensive to you? Nothing about my stuff has hate on it. You’re right about a world with a Hate and The former president was full of it hence the speaking out against his agenda. If you want to engage in a debate or polite conversation I have beer and wine and we can sit down like adults and have a conversation over a drink.

  6. “I gave her fair warning,” Wilson said. “I told her that I’m not willing to stay quiet about this issue, and it sounds like I have neighbors whose views I do not agree with, and actually find disturbing. Like I said, with the political climate the way it is right now, staying silent just lets this kind of stuff keep proliferating.”

    How dangerous is this comment, really? If this isn’t the embodiment of “cancel culture”, I don’t know what is. Is Mr. Wilson implying that bringing light to this subject would force the management company to circumvent rules in his favor? Living in a gated community governed by an HOA is a CHOICE; one that puts a responsibility on the homeowner to become familiar with CC&R’s, PRIOR to making a decision to display or alter pre-existing materials and foundations. When is the last time he attended a board meeting?

    I, for one, wholeheartedly AGREE with the message on the flag. You’d have to be an ignorant human being to disagree with it. The bigger problem here is that people are being given an excuse to assert dominance over others. The people responsible for the current political climate are on both sides of the equation, let’s not forget that.

    Here’s a toast (of beer or wine) to you kind sir. May you find success in your clear attempt to bend the rules in your favor…

    Respectfully,
    -Unbiased

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