The New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens has asked state and federal officials to investigate a University of New Mexico student who is accused of tearing down a Mexican flag.
Peter Lynch, 30, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a charge of criminal damage to property after tearing up a Mexican flag on campus last month. He has admitted tearing down the flag but said he was acting out of patriotism because the Mexican flag wasn’t accompanied by an American flag.
“This was a hate crime that can no way be hidden under the color of patriotic,” said John Moya, president of the Albuquerque LULAC Council.
Lynch said those who say he acted out of hate are “trying to make themselves out to be the victims, when in fact the American flag was the victim.”
The incident stemmed from miscommunication. The Mexican flag, put up for Mexican Independence Day, was never supposed to be left flying by itself. When the Army ROTC went to retire the U.S. and state flags on the evening of Sept. 14, they left the Mexican flag because they thought its owners would take it down. That didn’t happen.
Army ROTC students who were supposed to raise the U.S. and state flags on the following Monday forgot to do so.
Lynch, an Air Force veteran, complained to university officials. When nothing was done, he pulled down the flag, ripped it apart and handed it over to the Air Force ROTC office.
Campus police later charged Lynch with misdemeanor criminal damage to property. If convicted, he could face up to six months in jail and up to a $500 fine.
Veterans and others have defended Lynch’s actions as protecting the flag, not an act of racism.
Lynch, whose jury trial is scheduled for Nov. 19, also is accused by the student group El Centro de la Raza of using racial slurs against Mexicans. Someone identified as Peter Lynch called Mexicans “wetbacks’’ on an Internet posting in July.
Lynch’s attorney, Tony D’Amato, has denied that his client has made any racist comments.
“If there’s any message about this case, it’s that it is only about the American flag,” D’Amato said after Wednesday’s arraignment.
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