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.”
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.