The New Jersey Turnpike Authority has begun removing American flags from overpasses and bridges along the highway just days before the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States MidJersey News reported. The flags have been displayed for the past 19 years.
The flags were initially hung to honor veterans and first-responders and have been maintained by local police unions Fox News reported. Michael Slininger, president of the police union representing the area near Trenton, said that his group had just bought 12 new American flags to replace missing or damaged ones and hoped to have them up by this Friday.
“American flags have been flown on overpasses throughout the state and throughout the nation since 9/11,” Slininger posted on the Robinsville Township Police Benevolent Association’s Facebook page. “Now, as we approach the anniversary of that horrific day, we are extremely disappointed to announce that the NJ Turnpike Authority saw fit to remove all flags on overpasses covering the N.J.T.P. last week, replacing them with signs citing … a code which is meant to apply to advertisement material or improper road signage.”
In a lengthy statement the NJTA addressed the situation. The statement read, in part, “The long-standing policy of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority has been to prohibit the display of any flags, signs, or banners by private parties on Turnpike Authority property. While we appreciate the desire of some New Jersey residents to express their patriotism in these turbulent times by displaying flags on Turnpike and Parkway overpasses, Turnpike Authority regulations do not allow it, and for good reason. The Turnpike and Parkway run through more than 100 municipalities and include more than 1,100 bridges and other structures. The NJTA cannot adequately monitor flags mounted by private citizens to make sure they are safely and securely hung, properly displayed, and respectfully maintained.”
The statement concluded, “While we hope that everyone who wants to display the American flag finds a suitable location to do so, we believe that limiting the flags displayed on Turnpike Authority property to ones hung and maintained by Turnpike Authority staff is the best way to assure that all flags in the Turnpike and Parkway right of way are treated with the respect they deserve.”
The NJTA, overseen by the administration of Democratic governor Phil Murphy, did not comment on why the flags were allowed to be displayed for almost 20 years. Slininger was puzzled by the sudden change of policy. “We cannot understand why the N.J.T.P.A. has suddenly decided to abandon a tradition of patriotism and respect for our veterans. It is not known what happened to the brand new flags that we put up, but we truly hope they were respectfully disposed of, if not displayed elsewhere,” he said. “The placement of the flags was done in the same manner that has been done for nearly twenty years.”
News 12 New Jersey reported that a protest on Sunday was attended by hundreds in support of the flags. A spokesman for a group of local New Jersey veterans said they were told by the NJTA that the flags were a distraction to drivers along the Turnpike.
Carmine Pannullo, a first responder during the 9/11 attacks attended the protest and said that flying the flags in remembrance of those lost is the “least that we can do.” “It’s something that if you experience, you’ll never forget,” he said of that fateful September day 19 years ago. “So the mere thought of flags just being flown on a bridge, it’s kind of silly compared to all those lives lost on 9/11.”