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Property owner calls vandalism attack on free speech

POSTED June 19, 2012 8:26 p.m.

Downtown window signs questioning Republican ideals have been destroyed in an act of vandalism their owner sees as an attack on free speech.

The signs, bearing slogans such as “Vote Republican – It’s easier than thinking,” adorned windows at the eastern corner of the busy downtown intersection of Broadway and West Main Street. They were smashed last week, according to property owner Joe Fernandez, who installed the signs.

“We have an element of the GOP here in Stanislaus County and Turlock that just doesn’t like that kind of thing,” Fernandez said. “Their way of speaking is vandalism and violence.”

The signs, which questioned Republican policies on Medicare and featured imagery of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and shadowy creatures, were intended to spur debate, Fernandez said.

A democrat, Fernandez said he has been annoyed by Valley politics since moving to Turlock in 1992. The political climate is too extreme, he said, with residents unwilling to get together to discuss and compromise on core issues.

Fernandez said he put up the signs as a way of expressing his views, but feared they would be vandalized from the very start.

“Quite frankly, I was surprised they lasted that long,” he said.

Fernandez, who is also the co-owner of the Turlock Poker Room, purchased the downtown property in the mid 2000s with the intention of relocating the Poker Room to the site. The Poker Room instead moved to the Turlock Cinema Center in 2009, near the Regal Cinemas Turlock Stadium 14, due to the economic downturn and costs of renovating the downtown site, though Fernandez has retained ownership of the property.

Fernandez said he has not contacted the police about the vandalism, and does not expect to pursue the matter legally.

Instead, Fernandez has tried to send a message to the vandals by boarding up the windows and continuing to exercise his right to free speech.

“REALLY! VANDALISM AND VIOLENCE TO SUPRESS MY FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN TURLOCK” a spray-painted message on a boarded-up window reads. “BE CAREFUL BERLIN DID THAT IN THE 1940’S.”

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