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Yellow Ribbons Knot for Him : He Opted for Peace Sign, Was Hit by Vandalism

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Go ahead, says Steve Raikin, and tie a yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree.

Just don’t tie it around my tree, and don’t paint a yellow ribbon around it either. And whatever you do, don’t flick yellow paint on my silver Jetta.

Nevertheless, that’s what happened, says the Culver City resident, who declined a neighbor’s invitation to join the yellow ribbon craze that overtook much of the country--and nearly all the houses on the 5100 block of Pickford Way--during the Gulf War.

Instead, he displayed a peace sign poster that his daughter brought home from nursery school, only to find himself the target of hostile action.

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Twice, he said, someone tied a yellow ribbon on the tree for him. The second time, it was fastened to a high branch and he had to climb on his car with a fruit picker to take it down.

Then, he awoke one morning to find a narrow band of yellow painted around the trunk of the tree. He washed it off, but it left a faint stain. Finally, on Sunday morning he noticed 20 flecks of yellow paint on the right rear fender of the Jetta.

He expects $150 to $200 in auto detailing costs, but the authorities were less than sympathetic.

“I went to the police station, and the officer’s response was something like, ‘Why don’t you put up a yellow ribbon?’ ” said Raikin, 36, who operates a plastics shop in El Monte.

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“I may be blowing this out of proportion,” he admitted. But where others see petty vandalism, Raikin sees “a minor type of hate crime, where someone who has a different set of values gets vandalized, gets harassed, gets terrorized. You’re not falling within the general beliefs, so you should be made to leave.”

It’s not that he has anything against American troops, Raikin said.

“I appreciated that the troops put their lives on the line (in the Gulf),” he said, “but the yellow ribbon translates to me a false sense of patriotism.”

He added that he was too young to get drafted two decades ago. But had it come to that, he said, he would have have refused to serve in Vietnam.

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“Here, fortunately or unfortunately, Saddam Hussein gave us a lot of reasons,” he said, adding, however, that the United States and other Western powers did much to build up the power of the Iraqi ruler.

Eventually, he said, “there had to be a war that was going to destroy him. . . . He needed to be stopped somehow, but didn’t we set all that up?”

Seeking to explain his position, Raikin offered a postcard he bought at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The card showed a list of skeptical slogans painted on a wall, including: “Who Follows Orders? Who Salutes Longest? Who Prays Loudest? Who Dies First? Who Laughs Last?”

“It makes you in some way seem less patriotic because we question what got us into this war,” he said. “Where were our leaders in all this? It’s too easy to rally around the flag.”

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Raikin has lived without incident on the quiet street of small, neat homes near Overland Avenue for three years, together with his wife (who, citing professional reasons, asked not to be named or quoted) and their 5-year-old daughter.

They are on good terms with their neighbors, Raikin said, including the woman down the street who organized the block’s yellow ribbon campaign.

Indeed, said the neighbor, Lisa Hinman, “If they didn’t want to, that was all right. . . . We were just trying to be totally supportive of our troops, and that was up to the individuals whether they wanted to or not.”

Hinman said that she was surprised to hear of the incidents at Raikin’s house. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she said.

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Accountant Steven Hassan, another neighbor, said that he, too, was perplexed, but for different reasons. There are two or three other families on Pickford Way without ribbons or flags on their houses, he said, and they suffered no consequences.

“It’s just surprising to me that somebody would go to the effort, repeatedly no less,” he said. “It’s not like they’re throwing paint balloons at the house or anything like that. It’s just so petty.”

At the Culver City Police Department, Officer Ken Barrett said Raikin’s complaint was on file, but added: “With things like vandalism, there’s really nothing to do. There’s no way of investigating further. If he gets any leads, he’s told to call us and we’ll make a supplemental report.”

As of Tuesday, Raikin said, there were no new leads. But the poster his daughter and her classmates had made by dipping their hands in paint was removed from the front window.

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Despite the vandalism, it had been visible from the street since last Tuesday.

“We’re feeling that we’re trying to teach our daughter some values, and how can we take down the peace symbol because we’re scared,” Raikin said. “We told her it was up for a week, so now we can hang it above the fireplace instead.”


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