Bronx Veteran’s React to Eric Sheppard Challenge
by Gonzalo Duran
A few weeks ago student protestors at Valdosta State University (VSU) were videotaped stomping on the United States Flag while chanting derogatory remarks. On April 17th one of the leaders of the protest, Eric Sheppard, was videotaped and photographed during his anti-flag protest, which prompted action by a local veteran. Within a few hours Michelle Manhart, Air Force Staff Sergeant, was videotaped grabbing a flag that belonged to one of the VSU students who were desecrating it. Manhart was subsequently arrested for stealing the flag from the students but no charges were filed and the flag was returned.
During another protest that took place a few days later, Sheppard was detained and released by Valdosta police after supposedly making threatening remarks to students involving a gun. A few minutes after being released, police found a gun and two clips in the book bag they say belonged to Sheppard. He fled the scene and there is currently a warrant out for his arrest. Federal Investigators are looking into him as well for remarks he had made on social media. On one video Sheppard proclaimed himself a, “Terrorist towards lies…towards liars and those who are weak.” Sheppard is considered armed and dangerous as the weapon found on campus is registered to him and is the cause for the warrant.
Since the manhunt began for Sheppard, one particular person’s video of the anti-flag protest has gone viral. Erica Walker is shown jumping and cursing on the American flag while it was lying on the sidewalk holding a sign #ERICSHEPPARDCHALLENGE. This is a new trend glorifying Eric Sheppard’s actions and his current situation.
Over the weekend I asked a few fellow Combat Veterans from the Bronx how they felt regarding this new challenge:
Reginald Johnson (U.S. Army): “I don’t agree with the challenge but I understand their frustration. Still you have to find a better way than stomping on the U.S. Flag.”
Cecelia Lowe (U.S. Navy): “I can identify with the anger, frustration, and the pain. I even respect the need to ‘represent’ to be heard, seen, and validated. However…nothing positive can come from this. There has got to be a more effective way to address the situation.”
Adrian Elias (U.S. Navy): “My initial reaction to this was to be offended by it, however once I put some things into perspective I figured out that this is exactly what the organizer of the ‘challenge’ would want…Do I agree with the actions that were portrayed in the ‘challenge’? Absolutely not, yet I understand the frustration and intended message.”
I was truly astounded by the statements I received from the Veterans, especially noting that they all shared the same sentiment of understanding the protestors frustration. Their tone contained no animosity or sense of vengeance but one of empathy. The consensus is that the individuals have some sort of platform and right to lash out but we would like to see it in a different manner. Unlike the ALS challenge, I would not recommend doing this in the presence of these Veterans or anyone else for that matter. The outcome may not be as comparable to how these Veterans have articulated it to me. During Ms. Manhart apprehension she mentioned something intriguing, “The government put the Bald Eagle on the endangered species list and you cannot even touch them now. Why can’t we have the same protection with the flag?” There are state laws that make it illegal to mistreat the American Flag but they are hardly enforced and the Supreme Courts have ruled it constitutional under the Bill of Rights, First Amendment. There have been many attempts to have the constitution amended for this reason but until then, what these individuals are doing is within their rights, even if we are appalled by it.
Gonzalo Duran is a United States Marine Veteran and CEO of Devil Dog USA, Incorporated, the only non-profit veterans organization in the Bronx. Follow him on Facebook or at http://www.devildogusainc.org/