2007-09-07 / Community

PEP Spurs Controversy Over Beached American Flag

An unidentified PEP Sergeant tells the beachgoers on Beach 104 Street that they have to remove the American flag from the beach because they do not have a permit for the flag.
By Howard Schwach

The people gathered around the American flag on the beach at Beach 104 Street on the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend called the incident "horrendous" and "indicative of the way the Parks Enforcement Police (PEP) treat Rockaway residents."

Aspokesperson for the Parks Deparment calls the incident "a misunderstanding."

In either case, the incident sparked by an American flag that has been displayed on the beach on hot days for more than 25 years sparked a shouting, name-calling controversy that drew onlookers from other beaches and media who were covering the shark scare only five blocks away.

"We were all sitting there, enjoying the day, gathered around the flag we've been flying for more than 25 years, when a PEP worker came up and said that we had to take the flag off the beach," said Mark Wade, the man who takes care of the flag. "We were told that we had no permit to fly the flag on the beach and that the beach was city property and a permit was necessary."

The residents refused to take it down, explaining that some of them had relatives in Iraq and others had fought in wars to defend the flag, Wade told The Wave.

Having won their battle, locals rally round the flag. Having won their battle, locals rally round the flag. The PEP worker went and got an unidentified supervisor who demanded that they take the flag down.

"The supervisor told us that she was a veteran, but that the flag still had to come down," Wade said.

He added that the supervisor began yelling at them and threatening to have them arrested if they did not remove the flag.

He said that a crowd gathered.

Sala DeMartino-Nieves was on the beach that day, as well.

"We were sitting around, a big, happy group. We were not drinking, not causing any problems when a parks police officer came and said, 'You have to take that flag down.' I think that they were bored and looking to cause some controversy," she said.

"It just didn't make any sense to us," said DeMartino-Nieves, whose military husband is set to go overseas in January. "We refused to take it down."

Wade said that the altercation drew some of the media from the television networks who were a few blocks away covering a shark-sighting.

"Channel 2 showed up and then Channel 5, and the supervisor went away for a few minutes." Wade said. "When she came back, she said that the whole thing was a misunderstanding and she said that the lifeguards had requested that the flag be taken down and then quickly left the beach."

Wade said that he knows all of the lifeguards who work the beach and they told him that nobody had requested the removal of the flag.

Abigail Lootens, a spokesperson for the Department of Parks and Recreation, told The Wave, "The incident was a misunderstanding related to the confusion created by the shark that washed ashore near that location and Parks' efforts to keep the area clear for public safety reasons."

She added that there is no policy restricting flags on the beach and that "Parks welcomes the American flag that has been flying at Beach 104 Street."

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