HAVERHILL — The Greater Haverhill Civil Rights Commission has demanded a campaign sign supporting U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and “not an Indian’’ be removed immediately.
The sign reads “Re-Elect Scott Brown US Senate. Lt. Col. US Army, Not an Indian.” It hangs on a building at 173 River St. owned by John Caruso. Local Native Americans have complained about the sign, saying they are insulted.
The sign refers to an issue in the U.S. Senate race in which Republican Brown accused Democrat Warren of using her Native American heritage to receive preferential treatment when applying for a position at Harvard Law School.
Brown has been a member of the National Guard since 1978 and was recently promoted to the rank of full colonel in August.
A statement released yesterday by the Civil Rights Commission reads, in part: “The sign implies ethnic inferiority, that Native Americans should not be eligible for elected office and that Native Americans cannot serve in the United States Armed Forces because they are not patriotic.’’
The statement was released by Rabbi Ira Korinow of Temple Emanu-El, who heads the commission. The group consists of other local clergy members and civic leaders.
The commission was founded in 1990 to combat hate, following the appearance of the Ku Klux Klan in Haverhill. The commission also responded in 2008 after someone put feces on a door handle at Temple Emanu-El and in 2000 following comments about homosexuals made by a then-city councilor.
The Brown campaign said one of its representatives asked Caruso to remove the sign, but he refused. A representative for Warren said her campaign did not wish to comment for this story.
Caruso has been adamant that the sign will remain where it is. He said he does not believe the sign is offensive.
“There is nothing that is derogatory to anyone other than Elizabeth Warren,” Caruso said in a story in The Haverhill Gazette on Oct. 25. “It just is saying that he’s (Brown) not Native American. I’ve had people knock on my door and say, ‘Thank you for saying that.’’’
Korinow said he contacted Caruso Tuesday night about the sign, but Caruso simply thanked him for calling and hung up the phone.
Korinow said the sign puts a black eye on the city.
“The city of Haverhill has always prided itself in being a diverse community which respects the diversity of its population,” he said. “It’s unfortunate such a sign should appear in our city.”
Citing freedom of speech, Mayor James Fiorentini and police have said they do not have the authority to order the sign removed. The Civil Rights Commission, however, said the sign does not fall under the criteria of freedom of speech.
“While the First Amendment protects against government suppression of protected speech, it does not provide for the abuse of the amendment when words contain offensive language and convey hate,” reads the statement issued by the commission.
A second sign hangs below the one causing the debate. It reads “Freedom is not free, Section 60, Arlington National Cemetery, One Nation Under God.’’ Next to the words is the image of a soldier’s boot, with a rifle stuck inside the boot and a soldier’s helmet on top of the rifle.
Above the signs is a TV satellite dish displaying a yellow smiley face.