I often tell people I live 50 miles from Walmart - it gives city folk a point of reference. The nearest town (the one with Walmart and Lowe's - thank GOD) is Washington. In that town is a multi-use structure that can loosely be called a 'mall'. And for the last two weeks there has been an 'issue' regarding free speech.
Backstory: Mall employees have a designated parking area. Kalyn works at one of the stores in the Mall. She also owns and drives a truck with several expressions of her ideas exhibited for others to see, including two large flags—a Confederate Battle Flag and a Second Amendment Flag.
While at work Kalyn was confronted by one Carl Bailey, an employee of the owners of the Mall. He told her she needed to remove the flags from her truck and relocate it or she would be arrested and "taken downtown." He also threatened to have her truck towed. She promptly did as told, except for the stickers, which she couldn't remove until she was at home. But after further research, she decided NOT to remove the stickers and graffiti. However, Kalyn told a friend, who called the Beaufort Observer (an online only local news site). They decided to investigate.
We (The B.O.) talked to Mr. Bailey. He first told us that he told her to move her truck and take the flags down because the Manager of the US Cellular store on the property had called to complain. When we questioned Mr. Bailey if it was the Mall management's policy to try to control what individuals put on their vehicles he changed his story. We asked him what their policy is and if he was authorized to enforce it. He then said he was just trying to do the lady a favor because he feared that she would be confronted by the complainants, and indicated he feared for her safety and her property. "So you will allow customers who do not like something they see on a vehicle on the property to prevent a person from exercising their free speech?…" we asked. He then insisted that he was only trying to protect her. We then asked if he called security or the police to insure her safety or protect her property. His response was: "No, the police would never do anything…" We subsequently learned the mall has no security staff. We talked to a lady with Pearson Properties, the owner of the mall and later to Joe Pearson, one of the owners. They both said their office never authorized Mr. Bailey's actions and in fact did not know about it until "US Cellular called." Mr. Bailey indicated to us that it was the "US Cellular Manager" who called him to demand action.
So we called the US Cellular store and asked for the Manager. We were told that "Latoya" was the Manager but that she wouldn't "be back today." We asked if they could take a number and ask her to return our call. "I'm not sure when she'll be back…" was the answer we got to that. We then talked to the "Sales Manager" and he told us to contact the Corporate Public Relations Office. We did that and talked to Melissa McIntyre who knew about the incident but refused to answer any questions. She indicated she would have someone else call. They never called.
Instead Ms. McIntyre sent an email that said: "U.S. Cellular is aware of the vehicle in question and it does not belong to any U.S. Cellular associate. Please contact Washington Square Mall for any questions or statement." We called Ms. McIntyre back and asked her what the US Cellular policy was on how they handled such complaints. "I'm sorry, I can't answer that, or any other questions." Classic bunker mentality. (In this business you know when "the rabbit goes to ground.")
We did determine that nothing in US Cellular's lease gives them authority to manage the parking lots. We also determined that Pearson Properties has no policy against symbolic speech on their property.Read more about Round 1 at this link:
Below this article is a legal commentary on what transpired (also on the link above). I've included one paragraph of THAT that I find particularly pleasing:
But in a practical world, we view this situation, particularly with US Cellular and Mr. Baily (the Mall assistant manager), as political correctness run amuck. Does US Cellular really want to get into passing judgment on the political beliefs of its customers? Where would they draw the line if they used the "someone might be offended" standard? We are a US Cellular customer and we are severely offended by some of the spam that comes into our phone. Is that US Cellular's responsibility to protect us from that sort of stuff? US Cellular would be well advised to think twice before it decides to try to enforce politically correct speech.