Featured Letter: Free speech or hate speech?

06/02/2014 10:00 AM |
Protestors outside the Riverhead Post Office Saturday afternoon. (Credit: Jerry Bilinski, courtesy)

Protestors outside the Riverhead Post Office Saturday afternoon. (Credit: Jerry Bilinski, courtesy)

To the Editor:

On a visit to my local post office this Saturday, I was shocked to be confronted by a disturbing display on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Two protestors who said they were supporters of Libertarian politician  Lyndon Larouche had set up shop on the curb in front of the Riverhead Post Office. I have seen them before while driving around Suffolk County. However, I was still surprised by their appearance in the town where I live.

Apparently, they have been traveling around the county and setting up displays in front of post offices across Suffolk County. While they may be engaging in free speech on public property, and don’t appear to be violating any laws, I personally believe they are promoting a form of hate speech that harms our community.

One large sign they display prominently specifically portrays President Obama with a Hitler mustache superimposed across his face. I found this to be particularly troubling in that it associates the President of the United States with a heinous figure who facilitated the Holocaust. I think it crosses over the line and goes beyond just bad taste.

I approached the two people running the protest and politely asked them to please take down the photo of the President with the Hitler mustache. I let them know that I was a resident of Riverhead — they were not — and that this specific sign violated my sense of community standards.They were very polite, but refused.

When I invoked the connection to the Holocaust they replied that “Obama was engaging in a Holocaust right now all around the world.” That’s an absurd statement insulting not only to victims of the Holocaust, but also the memory of that event.

Now many people in the community would say just ignore this type of fringe group. I disagree.

Who in the community would say just ignore them if the Klu Klux Klan or a Neo-Nazi group started demonstrating in front of the Riverhead Post Office? I say its important to shine a light on their views and activities.

Hatred and ignorance needs to be confronted wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head. We should not be fooled by those espousing hateful views just because they are ordinary looking citizens and present themselves politely and in a non-threatening manner.

We should always be vigilant in not allowing hatred to creep into the mainstream culture here in America.

Besides being personally offended, I feel pain for my Jewish and African American friends in Riverhead who have to be exposed to this on a routine trip to the post office. Unfortunately, community apathy sometimes allows ugly and hateful messages to go unchallenged.

What can be done? How about a counter protest everywhere these people choose to set up shop? If they choose to return to Riverhead next week, I feel compelled put together a counter demonstration with the theme being “Free Speech, Not Hate Speech.”

I sincerely hope that like-minded residents here in Riverhead will join me.

Jerry Bilinski, Riverhead