On Tuesday afternoon, Craig Brinson, a bus driver from Asbury Park, stopped his bus to check out Bill Skuby's storefront window display on Third Avenue in downtown Spring Lake. What Brinson spotted amidst the drizzle was a picture in the center of the display, which was put up by Skuby, owner of a well-known men's clothing store.
The picture shows Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, naked except for a primitive loincloth, with a bone through his nose, witch-doctor style. Underneath the image, a caption is written in black and white: 'ObamaCare - coming soon to a clinic near you.' The 'C' is depicted as a classic Communist hammer and sickle, a symbol not as regularly seen since the fall of the Soviet Union.
"That's not right. It's racist," said Brinson, a 46-year-old African-American, pointing with a visible wince on his face to the doctored image of Obama as witch-doctor. "I understand that this is America, but the president doesn't deserve this. This is wrong."
But Skuby, 66, a Spring Lake resident, saw nothing wrong with displaying his anti-Obama visual, which has been up since last week, for the world to see.
"A lot of people feel the way I feel, but are just afraid to say it," said Skuby, who said that public response on the street in front of his store ran "70 percent positive" in favor of the display's anti-Obama sentiments. "It always comes down to the race card."
Skuby felt that the proverbial "race card" was one that he could flip over in his favor because of his particular family circumstances.
"The middle one is my granddaughter," said Skuby, holding up a photo of his now 17-year old biracial grandchild Brett, flanked by two other grandchildren who are white. "My son married a girl that had a biracial kid. She is every bit a part of our family as the other two in this picture. I'm not racist. And as long as my grandchild doesn't think I'm a racist, I'm perfectly fine with all of this."
The limits of American free speech are apparently being tested now in Spring Lake. When Skuby unapologetically put up his display for the people of Spring Lake and the world to see last Thursday, he ignited a now-burgeoning debate in this Monmouth County borough of approximately 3,000 people in what is known as the Jersey Shore's Irish Riviera. And for both sides, who have been gathering in front of Skuby's store window taking pictures and making comments, what's at stake is significant.
Several voices in the rainy streets of Spring Lake expressed open defiance in the face of Skuby's display, stating that his vision was not one shared by the people of the borough.
"That window represents the worst of the worst in our society," said Suzanne Herrmann, a therapist who lives part-time in Spring Lake. "People can have their views, but to express them with bones through their nose is not right. Let's talk about policy, not about nastiness. This is not representative of how people in Spring Lake act. It's not what you say, but how you say it. This is absolutely disgusting. It is also incendiary. It brings the out the worst in people. This is outside the boundaries of the parameters of good ethics."
"We don't touch anything political locally or nationally, but I've expressed by own personal opinion to Mr. Skuby about the window," said George D'Amico, president of the Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce. "He has a First Amendment right to do what he wants, but from a business perspective, I would not do what he did."
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