Virginia officials order removal of large American flag from worksite
By LAURA VOZZELLA | The Washington Post | Published: July 4, 2020
RICHMOND, Va. — Construction workers erecting a new office building for Virginia lawmakers unfurled an enormous American flag on the structure this week, just in time for the Fourth of July. But hours after the flag went up, state officials ordered it removed, calling the banner a "safety risk" and potential "target" for demonstrators.
Protesters have taken to the city's streets - including the Capitol Square corner where the 15-story future General Assembly building is rising - to decry police brutality and racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in late May. While largely peaceful, the marches have turned violent at times, with protesters tearing down tall metal fencing at that corner and injuring Capitol Police with bottles and other objects.
"Over the past month we've seen buildings and structures around Capitol Square vandalized and flags, dumpsters, a bus and other items set ablaze during demonstrations around the city," Dena Potter, spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, said in an email Friday. "When we saw the flag, we were concerned that it could become a target so we told the contractor to remove it."
The move infuriated a subcontractor, whose fireproofing company used tarps to make the supersized Old Glory - about as tall as a full story on the building, part of a $300 million project that also includes a parking garage.
"Since when is this flag, on this weekend, IN THIS COUNTRY, a Target!!" wrote Eric Winston of American Coatings Corp. in a Facebook posting. "Let me guess, if I had a black lives matter flag it would be 'ok'!?"
Winston and other company officials did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Winston wrote that the flag initially went up with the blessing of the project's general contractor, Gilbane Building Company. But Gilbane soon got a call from the state, and it had to come down.
Officials with Gilbane's Richmond office did not respond to messages seeking comment.
"The American Flag is a symbol of Freedom!" Winston wrote. "I'm all for the freedoms and liberty's we have in this country, Protest, sure. Take a knee during the national anthem, whatever floats your boat. Marry who you want, absolutely! That's what this flag represents! It's bull [expletive] that you made us take it down."
Potter noted that the state has had no objections to the standard-sized flag still flying over high above the project on a crane. But she said the larger one, which hung just a few stories up from the ground, would have been easier to reach.
She complimented Gilbane for complying with the order.
"They were very responsive when we asked them to remove it," she said in an email. "Of course the safety of the workers on the job and the public is our No. 1 concern, but we also did not want to see the flag damaged in any way."