A snow fence at an Evanston beach.

Evanston aldermen Monday decided to take no action after an incident last week in which a Lighthouse Beach visitor draped a Confederate flag replica towel over a snow fence.

City Attorney Kelley Gandurski said the city already has the right to prohibit anybody from attaching anything to city property and that taking further action to specifically ban the banner used by troops seeking to preserve slavery would be a content-based restriction of speech that would likely be overturned in court.

During the discussion at the Human Services Committee meeting, Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, urged that the city make some sort of statement that “that flag is a complete contradiction to all of our values here.” She suggested prohibiting its display as hate speech.

But Gandurski said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 in a cross-burning case, Virginia v. Black, that speech has to be more than just hateful to be legally proscribed, that the state would have to prove it was also intended to intimidate a specific individual or group.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he didn’t want the city to get distracted from its efforts on the COVID-19 pandemic, police reform and reparations by the flag issue.

“The Confederate flag has no power over me or anyone who looks like me,” Braithwaite said.

Referring to a local resident’s decision to protest the display of the flag, he added, “This is a situation where our community has spoken and made it pretty clear.”

Beyond that, he said, “If somebody is so bold as to display that flag, I want to know who they are. I like to know who our allies are and those that bear watching.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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