Town attracts unwanted attention in midst of tragedy
By Christine Franks, News Editor
In the wake of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks, the Town of Amherst attracted media attention regarding a controversy over whether the Town Select Board had discouraged or restricted the display of United States flags.

Residents gathered in the town common on Sunday to express opposition to any possible military acts in retaliation to the recent terrorist strikes.

The situation over the flags began when the Select Board met on Sept. 10 to determine "how often and how long" to fly a new commemorative display of 29 newly purchased U.S. flags. The flags, which had been put up on light poles downtown in August as an addition to the three flags the town always flies, were taken down after Labor Day, but not before they caused considerable debate over when they should be flown.

The Select Board decided during their Sept. 10 meeting that the flags would be most "appropriate and effective" if they were flown only to commemorate special holidays or occasions, according to a statement on the Town's website.

However, Town Manager Barry del Castilho said he heard reports that several news sources, including FOX News and CNN, inaccurately reported that the Select Board had restricted citizens and businesses from displaying the flag, and that the Boston Herald reported that flags were being thrown in the dumpsters in town.

"None of that is true," he said. "The timing of the Select Board's decision and the attacks were the worst possible ... which contributed to the notoriety and confusion."

"To think that people would think that a town wouldn't allow [for people to fly flags]. It's just too stupid for words," Select Board Member Eva Schiffer said.

According to the Town's website, the "overwhelming events, the very next morning [after the Select Board's ruling], brought a tragically appropriate occasion to mark and commemorate." So the 29 flags were put back up and lowered to half staff along with the town's other permanent flags.

According to Select Board Member Anne Awad, the flags will remain in place until Oct. 13, 30 days after the tragedy.

Schiffer added that, in response to the attack, a number of vigils have been held in town, and that town employees have started collecting money for the families of New York policemen, firemen and EMS technicians.

Additionally, many students and Amherst residents chose to adorn their cars with flags in a display of patriotism and compassion for the victims of the attack, and, by the weekend, some stores had sold out of the miniature flags that were used.

Awad added that in response to the tragedy, the Select Board is keeping in mind that things could change very quickly, and trying to send a message of restraint. She also said that the town held a peace rally last Sunday.

"Let's learn from this before we react," she said.

"People are very anxious about what might happen next and feel very little confidence in President Bush," State Representative Ellen Story said. "Everyone understands that something needs to be done, but they're afraid of whole-scale war. People are afraid of another Vietnam-but worse."

Issue 03, Submitted 2001-09-19 16:02:06