T-Shirt Gets 80-Year-Old Arrested
Posted by shadmia on April 6, 2008
By all accounts Don Zirkel, 80, a church deacon from Bethpage, NY led an exemplary life and had never been arrested before…that is until he refused to turn his T-shirt inside out or leave the mall, where he was participating in an anti-war rally. Suffolk police charged him with criminal trespassing 3rd degree and resisting arrest. He was released on bail and is due to be arraigned May 22 in Central Islip.
What was wrong with the T-shirt? Well it was an anti-war T-shirt. It said: “4,000 Troops, 1 Million Iraq’s DEAD” and had red ink spots to represent blood. See the picture above.
According to the police, Zirkel was handing out anti-war pamphlets to mallgoers and that mall security told him to stop and turn his shirt inside out. They claimed that the T-shirt was disturbing to some mall patrons. Zirkel refused to turn his shirt inside out and wouldn’t leave, police said. Security placed him on “civilian arrest” and called police. When police arrived, Zirkel passively resisted attempts to bring him to a police car.
Don Zirkel has a different version of what happened. He said he was sitting in the food court drinking coffee with his wife Marie, 77, and several others when police and mall security officers approached and demanded they remove their anti-war T-shirts. The others complied, but Zirkel said he refused, and when he wouldn’t stand up to be removed and arrested, authorities brought over a wheelchair.
“They forcibly picked me up and put me in the wheelchair,” said Zirkel. “Eighty years, and I have never been arrested before for fighting injustice.”
As Zirkel was being wheeled to the police car, the crowd chanted “We shall not be moved!” Moments later, they moved; police and mall security had ordered them off the property. Many joined a larger anti-war crowd assembled by the mall’s entrance, off mall property, on Veterans Memorial Highway.
Zirkel disputes the police claim that he was distributing leaflets at the mall. He said he was at the rally to support the anti-war protesters. “I was an encourager. I was an affirmer,” he said.
“I’m being punished for six words that spoke the truth. That’s insanity. War is insanity,” said Zirkel, who said his nephew recently returned from active duty in Iraq. “I’m wearing the T-shirt again,” he added.
Don Zirkel is a deacon for Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Wyandanch, which last year suffered a fire that destroyed its rectory. As a young man Zirkel attended a Bay Shore seminary but decided that he did not want to become a priest; instead, he married, Marie, his childhood sweetheart. He served in the Army during the Korean War as a corporal and chaplain’s assistant. After he was discharged, Zirkel attended St. John’s University, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology. After graduating he became editor of The Tablet, the Diocese of Brooklyn’s newspaper. He left the newspaper after 37 years in 1985. Mario Cuomo, the then governor of NY, hired him as spokesman for the state Division of Human Rights where he worked for 7 years before retiring.
He began protesting the Iraq war “when the pope sent a cardinal to see President Bush and tell him it’s an immoral war, which I 100 percent agree with,” Zirkel said.
“There are people my age getting killed over there,” he said, referring to Iraqi civilians.
The P.R. company that represents the mall’s owner, Simon Property Group says the media is not telling the full story and issued a statement part of which said:
Contrary to media reports, there were other circumstances that contributed to the arrest of Mr. Zirkel that extended well beyond his claims, including his insistence on continuing to rally inside Smith Haven Mall by handing out pamphlets and interacting with patrons in the mall’s food court, despite being asked to cease and desist these activities.