ORISKANY, N.Y. – We received a call into the NEWSChannel 2 newsroom late Saturday night from an Oriskany resident complaining about a display in the front yard of one of their neighbors.
We went by that home on Elm Street in Oriskany on Sunday to see if what they told us about was there was still there, and it was: a Confederate flag with a black skeleton hanging from the flagpole. A thin noose was around the neck of the skeleton.
We spoke to another resident in the area who also did not want to be identified. He said, "I find it unfortunate that someone would find it necessary to display something like that. All I can hope is that he's looking for attention. I don't know him. The Confederate flag has been there for quite a while. The skeleton was just a regular skeleton until very recently and he painted it black. Whether it's a cry for help or a threat, I don't know, but it's unfortunate in a small town like this to have people acting that way."
We tried to get a comment from the homeowner on their neighbor's reaction to the display. There were two pickup trucks in the driveway on Sunday and we repeatedly knocked on both the front door and the driveway door, but no one answered.
We also went door-to-door along Elm Street to get other neighbors' reactions to the yard display to see if it bothered them as well.
One woman who didn't want to go on camera said she doesn't have a problem with the Confederate flag, as she was originally from the south, but she says the skeleton hanging with a noose around its neck, painted black, is just not right.
Others were also disgusted, but one person we talked to – who also didn't want to go on camera – didn't say anything bad about the display, only saying the following: "Everyone has their own views."
On Monday, we again knocked on the homeowner's door and left a note letting them know that if they wanted to comment on the fact that people are not happy with the display, to give us a call. So far, we have not received a call from the homeowner.
Oriskany Police Chief Richard Zabek says this is a clear case of free speech.
"I can see why they would be upset," Zabek said. "I can see why that would offend some people, but unfortunately they're protected under the First Amendment right, freedom of speech. Nothing can be done, it's private property."
Oriskany Mayor Donald Rothdiener echoed that statement on Monday.
"We certainly do not agree with it, but unfortunately because of freedom of speech, there are no actions we can take at this time," he said.
Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol echoed that very statement as well. His office is still investigating the distribution of KKK flyers in this western part of Oneida County. Just last week, KKK flyers were left in the driveways of residents along Glen Road South in Rome's outer district, which is covered by the Sheriff's Office. This was the third time in the past four months someone has dropped off KKK flyers on people's property in western Oneida County. In May it happened in Westmoreland, and in June it happened in Lee Center.
Sheriff Maciol says his department is still looking for those who are dropping off the KKK literature, even though that is not a crime, and he says there's nothing law enforcement can do about the homeowner's yard display in Oriskany.
"A citizen has the right to place whatever he or she wants on their private property as long as they are not breaking the law," Maciol said. "It is the fundamental right of every citizen under the U.S. Constitution - the Constitution I have taken an oath to uphold. I find the image described to me very troubling, very offensive and very disturbing. I understand that it is causing anxiety to many citizens. I don't condone any type of image like the one described but I will say it again, it is not in violation of the law, so it is not a criminal matter for the Sheriff's Office to investigate".
Chief Zabek believes the person who put the display up is just looking for the attention it's getting.
"And I think it's making it worse because if somebody complains about it, brings it to your attention, that's what the person wants," Zabek said.
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