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Wilson: Yard signs are free speech. We have to fight to protect it — even from our own HOA.

Melissa Steele was just living her best life, trying to speak up on the things that matter. Her yard sign affirming that Black Lives Matter, Science is Real, and Love is Love was simply too much for the HOA.  

They left a note on Melissa’s door saying that she had 10 days to remove her yard sign, or she’d have to pay $100. How dare she assert, you know … facts?  “There’s a lot of things they could be cracking down on, and I’m surprised that this is what they chose,” Melissa told CBS4

Heather Luehrs, Melissa’s neighbor, also got a letter threatening to fine her for her Black Lives Matter sign. “Why would this be offensive? Why would it start now with this?”

Theo Wilson

Apparently, according to the Lowry Community Master Association, signs taking a stance on social issues are a violation of their covenant.  

Then, there came the public pressure from the news exposure around the targeting of the residents. The bad press apparently got to the LCMA. They changed their tune, and rightly so.  

This has already been a contentious year. People are more activated than they have been in decades, and before long, Lowry might have been in the center of a national media firestorm. I know they would not want to be in the kind of hot water that Stapleton was in before that neighborhood changed its name. 

Many people were shocked that an HOA would take this kind of stance based on the content of yard signs. This is an election year, after all. Signs with Donald Trump’s name are all over the place, as are signs for Biden and Kamala. So clearly, signs and messages are tolerated to a degree.  

They don’t detract from the beauty of the properties, so this can only lead one to suspect that someone in power has a problem with the particular content of these signs themselves. 

The notion that such an institution would wield power against their renters and homeowners on the grounds of social justice ideology may seem shocking to some. However, looking at history, I’m not surprised. Home owners associations and neighborhood covenants have a long history of discriminating within the purview of them being private organizations.  

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In the book, “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” author Richard Rothstein lays out the sordid history of how organizations like Lowry Community Master Association once took painful steps to “color” their neighborhoods how they so chose to.  

In the book, Rothstein not only talks about what they did to discriminate against potential Black homebuyers, but how they also punished white homeowners if they stood up for integrating their neighborhoods.  

Certainly, this is not a case of racial discrimination, but it did smell of ideological bias. It can  leave one to assume that whoever is in charge over at LCMA either has conservative leanings, or a phobia of all political speech. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that until these ideals become weaponized. Institutions have always had the power to flex their muscle on behalf of those who run them.  

Thank goodness we’re not in the Jim Crow South, or an earlier time in America. But just because we have evolved doesn’t mean we can just rest on our laurels. Without vigilance, activism and the courage to resist, we can slip back into those days in the blink of an eye.  

American activism pioneered the way for a social justice culture to be a part of modern democracies around the globe. It’s what gives us the moral high ground to call out tyranny when other nations weaponize hate. 

Social justice culture isn’t just a collection of liberal talking points; it’s a tool we African-Americans had to develop in order to save our lives. Hopefully, Lowry has learned its lesson, but I invite them to see a bigger picture.  

Had this kind of ideological discrimation not been nipped in the bud, there’s no telling how far it could regress us in the future. Freedom matters, as well as the resistance to institutional overreach. Personally, I’m happy that this debacle got brought to light. In this tiny corner of Earth, justice is preserved … for now.  


 Theo Wilson is a poet, speaker, activist and CNN contributor. Learn more about him at TheoWilson.net.


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