Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Discrimination Against Iraq Veteran in Long Island

Letter from Kristofer Goldsmith:

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing you as a Veteran, concerned that First Amendment Rights are not being protected in the United States. My name is Kristofer Goldsmith, and I am from Long Island New York. I spent the year of 2005 with the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad. While overseas I received the Army Commendation Medal, and was recommended for the Bronze Star Medal. I was quickly promoted to the rank of Sergeant after just over two years in service, and graduated from Fort Stewart's Non-commissioned Officer School with honors in May of 2006 at the age of twenty.

After coming home from Iraq I began suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and major depression, but for over a year managed my symptoms on my own, and continued to have a successful career. After being stop-lossed for a second deployment, my PTSD was aggravated beyond my control. I was removed from the Army under honorable conditions after a suicide attempt last summer. I am now rated by the VA as 50% disabled due to PTSD, chronic depression and other problems generated from my time in service.

I now continue my service to this great nation as a member of a group called "Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)." As a member of this non-profit organization I have traveled the country seeking to help the veterans of my generation find a welcoming community and get the benefits they were promised upon enlisting. I have testified before Congress, and worked the hill advocating for an end to the Stop-Loss policy and reminding Politicians of the cost of the Iraq war back at home. I have been fighting to make sure that recent Veterans return from overseas to an America prepared to care for it's wounded.

You may have heard of the 10 Veterans arrested outside the third Presidential Debate on October 15th 2008 at Hofstra University. I was the first of the ten to be handcuffed and charged with "Disorderly Conduct" for attempting to demand of the Presidential Nominees, John McCain and Barrack Obama, that they begin to address the issues most important to Veterans in this country. 1000 Veterans receiving care from the VA attempt suicide each month in this country. An average of 18 Veterans successfully kill themselves each month in America. The VA system has over half a million claims waiting to be processed in it's back-log. One third of the homeless people in this country are Veterans, meaning an estimated 200,000+ Veterans will be sleeping on the street tonight. These are the issues that I fight to push into mainstream America's living rooms.

While most of my work with Iraq Veterans Against the War has been directed regionally or nationally, recently I've attempted to reach the high population of Veterans around my home, here on Long Island. The Annual Bellmore Family Street Festival is an event which has occurred just three blocks from my home each year since before I was born. I remember waiting each year as a child for my favorite part of the fair, the military recruiters and Veterans Groups who would set up their tents around Bellmore's Veterans Memorial Park at the corner of Broadway and Bedford Avenue. This year, home and out of the Army, I approached the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce requesting to set up a table at the Street Festival. At first, as a someone who was late in registry, I was granted space "44" in front of "Madison Smoothies" at the far northern end of Bedford Avenue, close to Oak Street. I was told that regardless of the fact that I am a Veteran of Iraq, if I were to table for Iraq Veterans Against the War, I would be segregated from the other Veterans Groups as to not offend them. The Executive Director/Festival Coordinator, Joni Caputo, explained to me that she was doing me a favor by letting me table at all due to my late registry, so I accepted the terms of the segregation from those at the Veterans Memorial.

The original dates for the Bellmore Street Fair were Saturday, September 27th and Sunday, September 28th. However, due to rain, I was notified by the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce that the fair would be pushed back a few weeks, to Saturday, October 25th, and Sunday, October 26th. At this time I was told by the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce that my space would still be available for the rescheduling, and I confirmed with them I was still planning on tabling.

On Thursday, October 23rd I received a call from the Bellmore Chamber notifying me that my space was now unavailable, and that I would not be allowed to table at the Street Fair. At this time I requested to share a tabling space with another organization, but was denied due to total lack of physical space on the street. Going further, I asked Executive Director Joni Caputo if I found someone willing to share their rented physical space, if I could then be allowed to table there. Her reply was something to the effect of "look, you can't table anywhere, because the Chamber decides who gets to use what space and where. No matter what, you cannot table at the fair."

Saturday, October 25th 2008, I walked along Bedford Avenue to look at the "total lack of physical space" on the street. What I saw on the front window of the Law Office that Joni Caputo works in made it clear as to why my space was suddenly "unavailable" at the last minute. Every Republican Candidate had their posters plastered on the front of this office. A cardboard cutout of John McCain with a sign attached saying "$3.00 for a picture" stood by the front door to the office. Signs for Congressman Peter King taped to the windows reminded me how when I spent a month in Washington DC this summer, King, my own representative, refused to grant me time for a meeting. I know that Peter King supports the troops, but only when they align themselves with his ultra-pro-war views. How could he deny me, an Iraq Veteran, one of his own constituents, time in his office?

Continuing my walk along Bedford this Saturday, I noticed a number of open spaces between tables, ignoring the spaces that were paid for by the store owner to keep their store front clear. When I reached the Veterans Memorial Park, I noticed that Times Magazine, and other Corporations had received preferential treatment from the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce, even more so than the actual Veterans who were placed behind the park in the parking lot and across the street. Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Patriot Riders, and other Veterans Organization all got representation at this event- and I've got it on video to prove it.

Sunday, October 26th 2008, I returned to the Bellmore Street Fair, to a more crowded day with the sun shining brightly. Again, I noticed that there was still plenty of empty space between tables at this event. I approached the Long Island Democrats, who allowed me to speak briefly on stage at the Obama Rally on October 15th; and asked them if they would mind it if I shared their space, since they had more than they could use. Because my organization does not endorse any candidate, I set my table up just to their side, as to provide a clear definitive separation from myself and the Obama campaigners.

On the table I set up I displayed voter information concerning the candidates records on Veterans Issues, Books and DVDs produced by IVAW, and other things. Most important to me, however, was my Army Times Magazines. I was displaying the pictures of all the service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few weeks. To my knowledge, the Military Times, is the only publication that prints pictures of those fallen warriors, and my purpose was to help the people of Bellmore put a face on the numbers. As a servicemember, as a Veteran, I know there are few things more offensive than to be regarded as "just a number."

At precisely 1:16pm I set up a table to the east side of the Mid-Nassau Democrats rented street space on Grand Avenue on the side of the Mediterranean Grill Diner. There I sat for over an hour and a half peaceably, talking to people as they walked by, distributing pieces of paper with websites that links them to Veterans Organizations and their voting issues. Many people approached me, thanking me for my service in the Army, and thanking me for my service out on the street that day. Around 2pm a short, stout woman wearing a green shirt labeled "STAFF" and "Kickin' it up Country" approached me demanding to know who said I could set up where I did. I replied with the name of the local democrat who had offered to share his space, as she angrily scurried off barking inaudibly with her clipboard. With my father present, who was wearing a shirt that says "Honor the Warrior, Not the War", I continued talking to the people on the street who were receiving me with warm welcome.

At approximately 2:30pm on Sunday the stout woman returned with about five other people with the green "STAFF" shirts. One bearded older gentleman with a goatee and ponytail who wore the green shirt of authority immediately demanded that I "pack [my] shit up now!" I explained to him that I was sharing a very clearly open spot with the Long Island democrats, and was causing no harm to anyone by being present. I told him in detail how I had reserved a spot, and when my spot was suddenly unavailable, I was suspicious that my views may have had something to do with my cancellation. He responded "do you think I give a fuck about your views? If you won't pack up your shit, I'll pack it up for you!" At this time he began taring at and piling up the pictures of the dead service members I had displayed to honor and remember on the table. Immediately I was extremely offended... Watching as this man disrespectfully manhandled the photographs of every single servicemember who had died over the last few months...

At this time I began packing my suitcase, to protect the pictures of my fallen brothers and sisters, as the man continued his rant and rage. My father then called the police afraid that I would be assaulted. Within seconds Officer Mobilio and at least four other officers from the Nassau County Police Department showed up. The man with the green shirt, who only identified himself as "Paul" continued to threaten me, even in the presence of the officers, as I was packing up and getting ready to leave. He then turned to my father and said "if you want to see assault, they'll (pointing to the police) be picking you up all over the street!" Upon voicing my concerns over the threat made to my father, Officer Mobilio just responded "they have the right to use force, to an extent".

Now I'm left to wonder, how is it that an Veteran who served in one of Our Nation's most current wars, is not allowed to express his views in his own home town? I'm offended that the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce and it's employees questions my patriotism, my love for country, and especially my love for my fellow Veterans. I have devoted every spare penny, every spare minute of my life over the last few months, since leaving active duty, to fight to honor and protect our nations Veterans. I say Support the Troops, All the Troops, and Respect their Rights, no matter what! When I enlisted in the Army I swore to "defend the Constitution of the United States," and I come home to people willing to trample all over my First Amendment Rights! I will not stand for this, and will expect to see those who stood in my way in court.

To reach the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce to find out why they would discriminate against an Iraq Veteran, and to find out who "Paul" is:

Joni Caputo - Executive Director/Festival Coordinator
Joe Verdi- Exhibit and Display Coordinator
Chamber of Commerce of the Bellmores
PO Box 861
Bellmore, NY 11710
Fax 615-409-0544

For Press looking for witness testimonies and comments, please write me at kris@ivaw.org


Kristofer Goldsmith
Former Army Sergeant
Operation Iraqi Freedom III
Iraq Veterans Against the War