Anti-Bush Sign Torched on Lawn
November 2, 2004
Joel and Jeanne Kerwin of White House Township, New Jersey, wanted to tell their neighbors and anyone else passing by on the busy road outside their house just how they felt about this election.
So they put up a huge canvas sign in mid-October that had yellow ribbons on it indicating support for the troops. The sign, which was about twenty-four feet long and three feet high, said, "Save America, Defeat Bush."
The Township of Readington didn't take kindly to it. "The township gave us a summons because the sign violated a zoning ordinance that says political signs can't be bigger than sixteen square feet," says Jeanne Kerwin, a medical ethicist at Overlook Hospital. "They said they had five complaints about the sign. We didn't argue; the ordinance is the ordinance. But before we took it down, it was stolen."
She says that all that remained was some torn canvas and the poles.
So on October 24, the Kerwins put up a second sign that conformed to the size requirements, with the exact same message.
"The following morning there was a knock on our door at about 6:45," Kerwin says. "It was the police. The cop said, 'Your sign is burning.' I looked out, and it was fully engulfed in flames. It was really scary."
The fire department came, and the police were called, but they didn't apprehend anyone for the crime.
The Kerwins refused to back down. Her son Fred True, who had made the two previous signs with some friends, went back to work.
"We said we're not going to be deterred," she says. "We have a constitutional right, so we put up a third sign: 'Wisdom is better than weapons of war. Rebuild America. Defeat Bush.' "
The line about wisdom is straight out of Ecclesiastes.
But that did not impress the vandals.
"On Nov. 1, at about 1:15 in the morning, I woke up to the sound of a staple gun," Kerwin says. "I looked out the window and saw someone stapling something onto our sign. My husband jumped into his clothes. I was fearful, honestly. I told my husband, 'Be careful. These people are vicious. They're hateful.' I was worried for his well-being, and I was watching from the window. The guy jumped in his car before he got out there. I was relieved, actually. You never know what these people will do."
What they had done was to staple eight cardboard posters onto the sign, which covered it all up. And on the cardboad, they wrote their own political messages, Kerwin says.
"One of them said, 'Ten out of ten terrorists don't want Bush. Vote Bush.' Another one said, 'UN sanctions failed. War is the answer.' "
Kerwin's husband ripped the cardboard down, but there was still more trouble before the day was through.
That afternoon, Joel Kerwin "saw someone walk up to the sign and start ripping the sign down," she says. "My husband approached him, he lunged, and my 58-year-old husband pinned him to the ground."
According to Kerwin, the police then came and arrested the man, who was a retired police officer, as is Joel Kerwin.
The Readington Township police did not return two phone calls from The Progressive. But Detective Sergeant James Izzo told the Courier News, which broke the story about the arson, that the police were investigating that crime.
"It's a sobering slap in the face that this sort of thing still goes on," says Fred True, who has put up similar signs around the area.
"We live in a very Republican town," says Kerwin, "and I happen to be a registered Republican, though I haven't voted that way the last two times. So I'm not surprised people didn't agree with the sign, but I am dismayed and shocked by the violent and hateful reaction. It's a scary thing because I think we're losing the integrity of our Constitution. We're going backwards. People are going back into savage ways."