WWI-era cannon displayed at Costa Mesa police substation worries some about message it could convey
It was the 20th day of April this year when the verdict came in regarding the 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. With the news of the verdict fresh in her mind, the Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, senior pastor of St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, was driving past the Costa Mesa Westside police substation when she was struck by the public display of an intimidating cannon pointed toward the street.
“Oh my gosh, what on earth are we saying here?” Voorhees recalls thinking. “It’s really a show of force in this day and age. Is this the message we should be communicating?”
Unable to get the image out of her head, Voorhees sent an email to Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens to voice her concern and to offer suggestions.
“I would like to suggest that a better place for the cannon would be in a museum or military base. Even better, from a spiritual perspective, melted down into plow shares,” Voorhees wrote to the mayor in an email she shared with the Daily Pilot. “Perhaps a more hospitable message out front of the police station would be flowers, especially during these difficult times.”
Stephens replied to her email, acknowledging that he saw her point and would look into it.
The artillery piece was originally donated by the American Legion Post 291 in 1948 to the Veterans Memorial Hall, which had previously occupied the building next door to the substation. When the hall was torn down in the early 1990s the gun was relocated to the front of the substation, where it remains today.
The 835-pound cannon with a 7-foot barrel is an authentic M-1902 U.S. Army field gun that had been used for training purposes between 1905 and 1917. Gen. John Jay Pershing took several of the cannons with him during the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916-17 but they were not fired in combat.
In 2013, the 17-year-old son of a retired Costa Mesa police officer completed restoration on the weapon as an Eagle Scout project.
According to Costa Mesa Police Department Lt. Ed Everett, the cannon is non-functioning and has never been used in law enforcement. He also said that the feedback following the restoration had been positive.
Tony Dodero, the city’s public information officer, said he’s unaware of any complaints having been lodged by community members over public displays such as the cannon.
“We’re certainly not hearing that here,” Dodero said.
But Voorhees is not alone in her concerns.
A woman walking her dog past the police substation last week at first theorized that maybe it could have been a possible art installation designed to replicate a cannon.
But after a closer look, the dog walker, who asked not to be identified by name, wondered aloud about the intent of placing a cannon in front of the building and thought it belonged in a museum instead of outside the police substation building.
A young couple, Jake and Chelsea, who would not share their last names out of concern for privacy, said they live around the corner from the substation. They were walking to the Aug. 3 Costa Mesa National Night Out event at Lions Park across the street when they paused to share with a reporter their opinion of the cannon’s presence.
“It’s off-putting, a big artillery machine like that,” said Jake. “It’s kind of amazing that it’s adjacent to a kid’s park.”
Costa Mesa resident Trevor Duncan, who played at what he still calls the “Airplane Park” (Lions Park) as a kid said the police facility should be inviting to the community, a place where you go for help.
“It’s 2021, we have enough violence in our society, we don’t need another reminder from WWI,” Duncan said. “It’s time for a change, time to replace with something more appropriate of the Costa Mesa community.”
Duncan, a gun owner, explained that it has nothing to do with gun rights or preventing the police from using guns, but rather a good opportunity to put something else up there that appears less menacing.
Voorhees continues to hope the city will see to it that the cannon is relocated.
“I’m not trying to nix history but trying to put it in a proper place,” she said. “I think many times we get so used to seeing something that we don’t see it anymore. But in this case, I believe it is time for all of us to review the messages we are sending to our wounded society.”
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