SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Police have cited Iraq war veteran Marine Lance Cpl. John Canter for carrying an American flag at Civic Center Plaza, home to the Occupy San Diego movement.
At approximately 9:40 p.m. on Dec. 22, Canter was cited under an obscure municipal code, section 53.30, which prohibits certain items at protests and other such events.
San Diego municipal code section 53.30 states: "No person shall carry or possess while participating in any demonstration, rally, picket line or public assembly any metal stake, club, or pipe, or any length of lumber, wood, or lath, unless that wooden object is 1/4'' or less in thickness. and 2" or less in width. If not generally rectangular in shape, such wooden object shall not exceed 1/2" in its thickest dimension."
In an interview with signonsandiego.com, San Diego Police Department assistant chief Boyd Long said officers could tell the flag pole was larger than regulations allowed.
"I don't know that it takes an expert to make a determination on what is or isn't thicker than one-half of an inch," Long said. "They got back to the station. They did measure it. It was three-quarters of an inch thick. So it is in violation."
Canter said he was in shock when they told him he couldn't carry the flag. "I have never in my life been told I couldn't carry an American flag. It's clear they were just looking for a reason to cite me specifically, as a veteran," Canter said.
Canter elaborated that many members of the Occupy San Diego movement appreciate the presence of veterans at the occupation of Civic Center Plaza and look to veterans of the community as a source of strength and pride. Canter, who served in the Al Anbar province of Iraq from April 2007 to November 2007, is a regular at the plaza in his Marine Corps desert combat uniform.
"The cops saw this as a chance to say 'we're not afraid to go after a veteran,'" the young Marine said. "It was a chance for them to say 'we're in charge.'"
Following the incident, calls went out on the Occupy San Diego Facebook page for an impromptu rally to, as described by rally organizers, take the American flag back from SDPD.
At 4 p.m., Dec. 23, protestors from Occupy San Diego, Veterans for Peace and MoveOn.org rallied at the corners of 4th Avenue and B Street in downtown San Diego. Nearly all of the protestors, numbering more than 70, carried American flags on illegal sized poles while others draped the flag around their necks.
"I was really surprised by the number of people that came out for this," said Canter, who led the march. "We had already planned a rally in support of Occupy Egypt for later that evening but to see this many people come out for the flag was really inspiring."
Reflecting back on his time in Iraq, Canter said he and his fellow Marines often looked to the flag as a source of pride and something they could rally around.
"It's really important to me," he said of the American flag, "especially when you're away in a foreign country, to see the flag and be reminded of what America -- at least used to -- stand for."
Canter clarified that while the flag is being held under his name by the San Diego Police, it actually belongs to Occupy San Diego, having been given to the group as a gift.
After nearly an hour protesting at Civic Center plaza, protestors marched nearly five blocks to the San Diego Federal Courthouse for a solidarity rally in support of the Occupy Egypt movement.
Since the Occupy San Diego movement began in early October, nearly 139 protestors have been arrested. Charges have been brought against only 29 of those arrested.
Earlier that same evening of Canter's citation, another protestor was arrested for lighting a bundle of sage in celebration of the Winter Solstice.
Benjamin Cossel is a San Diego writer; this is his first piece for Off the Bus. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to the Huffington Post's coverage of American political life, please contact us at www.offthebus.org.