Controversial Metro ad gets makeover within hours

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

A controversial ad was posted in four Metro stations under court order Monday, but within hours one had already been covered with yellow Post-it notes giving an alternative message to the ad, which equated Muslims with savages.

Debbie Polhemus, of D.C., covered up the letters of the ad, which read "In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

The high school teacher said she wanted to counteract the American Freedom Defense Initiative's right to free speech with her own right to free speech, all without actually defacing the sign. "This is a public space, and we don't like hate speech," she told The Washington Examiner. "And not to do anything would be to allow this speech. ... It would be hurtful."

Her message at the Takoma Metro station on the Red Line instead included: "If you see something hateful say something peaceful."

A Metro contractor placed the ads at the Takoma, U Street, Glenmont and Georgia Avenue stops Monday after a federal judge had ordered the transit agency to post them by 5 p.m. The judge ruled Friday that Metro could no longer delay the advertisements.

The AFDI had signed a contract for $5,600 with Metro's advertising vendor, CBS Outdoor, to run four 43-by-62-inch ads from Sept. 24 to Oct. 21 on the Metrorail system.

But Metro told the group it was delaying the ads indefinitely due to global unrest about an anti-Islam video. When the AFDI filed an injunction, arguing the delay violated the First Amendment, Metro told the court that federal agencies had warned it of a verified domestic terrorism threat and it received a separate email threatening to firebomb the system if it ran the ads. It also was concerned the ads would incite riders to get into fights along the platforms, a dangerous area given the moving trains. The agency said it was prioritizing public safety.

No violent incidents were reported Monday. Many riders walked by without noticing the signs at U Street and Georgia Avenue.

But Polhemus, who said she was acting alone, said she expected others would be expressing their concern over the ads as well.

Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said a coalition of about 200 groups is planning to send letters to local officials asking them to take steps to balance the ads. He said the groups are also considering taking out their own competing ads.

In New York City's subways, where the ads have been running for a few weeks following a court ruling, they were quickly covered with graffiti. At least one person was arrested when she spray-painted an ad pink. In San Francisco, the Muni system posted its own countermessage and pledged to donate the ad revenue.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the agency has no plans to post a countermessage to the ad, noting that the agency had never declined to run it for its content but had merely sought to delay it.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner