Our View: Flags and food underpin community

Our View: Flags and food underpin community
Richard Cohen's burnt American flag on a tree stump (Courtesy Photo)

The best and worst of Alexandria were simultaneously on display this past week.
Falling in the best category is the reopening of Al’s Steakhouse.

A community favorite, Al’s had been owned by John Severson for 50 years, from 1965 until his death two years ago. After John passed away, the Severson family sold the restaurant to the Breeding family – longtime fans of the eatery’s signature steak and cheese sandwich – in June 2016.

Sadly, a fire on its first day under new ownership shuttered Al’s once more. However, the story didn’t end there, as the Del Ray community rallied around the Breedings and Al’s.
A fundraiser was held that included chefs and owners from seven local restaurants: Holy Cow, Sweet Fire Donna’s, Cheesetique, Del Ray Pizzeria, Market 2 Market, Stomping Ground and Taqueria Poblano. Between the fundraiser and a GoFundMe page, more than $20,000 was raised to help the Breedings reopen Al’s.

There are several remarkable facets to this story. First is the dedication within the Del Ray community toward its institutions.

Dorothy Breeding grew up in Del Ray, going to Al’s Steakhouse. It was an act of community that led Breeding and her family to want to buy Al’s and keep it open.

Also astonishing is that, rather than viewing Al’s as simply less competition after the fire that forced it to close, seven restaurants in the same neighborhood gave their time and food to raise funds to help reopen Al’s. And the larger Del Ray community responded by opening their pocketbooks. This is a wonderful story of community support.

In sharp contrast, the rash of vandalism on American flags in Alexandria’s Westridge neighborhood is distressing. At least eight incidents of burning or mutilation of flags in the West End community have been reported.

A distinction is in order here: burning an American flag, while reprehensible to many, is constitutionally protected under First Amendment free speech protections. While we loathe the action, we support the right. But that protection extends only to burning one’s own flag.

Going onto someone else’s property and burning their flag is vandalism, the same as if their house windows had been smashed or their car tires slashed. Whoever is doing this should be caught and punished to the fullest extent the law allows.

And while the crime is technically “just” vandalism and arson, the signal it sends goes well beyond that. Those who desecrate our flag are attempting to tear down our shared identity as Americans.

They dishonor the service of people like Richard Cohen, the 90-year-old disabled World War II veteran whose flag was found in tatters.

Mutilating someone else’s American flag is the opposite of the community building in Del Ray.

The perpetrators of these crimes may be youthful and mischievous, or they may be serious and making a political statement. Either way, their actions are unacceptable.
We encourage residents throughout Alexandria to show their solidarity with their Westridge neighbors. If you have an American flag, now is a good time to fly it. If you don’t, now is a good time to buy one. And while you’re out, don’t forget to stop by Al’s for a steak and cheese.