The same neighborhood in which a swastika was left on a tree near a community organizer’s home, has also experienced the theft and destruction of a pair of Pride flags.
The swastika incident occurred the evening of April 1st near the residence of Julie Ohashi, who created the Livingston Integrity group to promote transparency and honesty. She discovered it on April 2nd on a tree just off of her property line. She said it happened a day after her personal information was posted online by a group opposed to the district’s recently-passed millage, which Livingston Integrity publicly supported.
That incident is being investigated by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. However, it has since been revealed that a homeowner in that same subdivision, located near Dunham Lake and straddling both Livingston and Oakland counties, reported the theft of two Pride flags, taken from their home.
The homeowner, who wished to remain unnamed, said that on Saturday, April 15th, he and his wife realized that the Pride flag located on their back deck was missing.
“Our back deck is in the back of our private property, but it does overlook a sort of community walking trail,” he told GIGO News. “So someone crawled up onto our back deck and stole it. We thought maybe it was a prank or whatever. We didn’t love it, it felt invasive, but we were kind of going to not think it was as serious as it was.”
He said that changed when his wife found burnt remnants of the flag at the neighborhood’s public community beach.
“And it was very clearly like a Pride flag was burned there, and then she found the flagpole in the area,” he said. “So, when that happened we sent out an email to the community group saying, ‘Hey, you know, this is a little bit more serious.’
Then on Monday, April 17th, he says they received a note in their mailbox, which was what he called “a printed out low-effort meme,” depicting someone with a Tuba-like instrument labeled “LGBT Propaganda,” covering the entire head of another individual, labeled , “Me trying to live my life.”
“So now we’re thinking that whoever is doing this is enjoying the attention they’re getting,” he said. “Then the next Saturday, that would be April 22nd, they took our flag (again), because we put another Pride flag up immediately.”
He said the second theft was a “a bit more brazen,” as he “had some friends over and we were up late and in order to steal the flag, they have to go onto the deck at the same level that we were. So they came in and stole the flag. It’s cowardly either way, but doing it when we’re home and clearly awake is just really, really frustrating.”
The homeowner says both times he called the authorities. The first theft was reported to the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office, who dispatched a deputy to take a report. When the second theft occurred, he left a message at Livingston County Central Dispatch’s non-emergency number and a Michigan State Police Trooper responded and took a report.
“So both times we called the police and gave statements and had them look at stuff, but there’s not really anything we could do,” he said. “Both of them said, ‘Hey, if you had cameras, give us the camera footage’. We’ve since got cameras, but in the time of the two instances, we didn’t really have any good footage.”
He says the email he sent out to the community group about the incidents was met with messages of support, and people saying the thefts and burning of the flag didn’t represent them as a community.
As to who might be responsible, the homeowner said he could only speculate that it was a “kid who was getting reinforced with this message at home, because they burned the flag at the West Beach, which is very like, ‘I can’t take this home,’ You know what I mean? If it was another homeowner, I feel like they could just take it to their home and do whatever ritualistic bullshit they were trying to do there.”
“And then especially the meme feels very childish to me,” he said. “I definitely think it’s a kid, but I also don’t think that diminishes it at all.”
When asked if he thought the same person or persons who stole his Pride flags was also involved with the swastika incident, the homeowner said he couldn’t really say either way.
“I feel like it’s probably similar,“ he said, “They’re looking for different avenues. I don’t know why they chose that woman’s tree specifically. Taking a Pride flag in and itself is a statement and a swastika in and of itself is a statement. But I think that if it is the same person or a group of people, I feel like it’s in the minority based on some of the responses that I’ve gotten from people in the neighborhood saying, ‘Hey, you know, this does not represent us.’ And walking around the neighborhood, I see a lot more Pride flags than were out before. So I definitely feel like there were more allies in the area than not.”
Despite that, he says they are still pretty shaken up and were even considering selling their house when it happened.
“We’re like, ‘Is this the neighborhood? Because we can’t live here,’ that sort of thing,” he said. “So, it definitely had an effect in the moment, but I think it’s more of like a silver lining that we saw some more support, but the fact that it’s happened at all is still pretty jarring. You can have whatever political beliefs you want, but vandalism of this nature is on another level, right? I hope to believe that it’s a small person or a friend group or whatever that’s daring each other. I would certainly throw every book that I had at them if I ever knew who it was. I’m not trying to like say, ‘Oh, it’s probably kids, so it’s fine,’ It’s absolutely not fine.“
As for Ohashi, she definitely believes there is a link and hopes that anyone experiencing these types of intimidation tactics and harassment are making and following up on police reports.
“Paper trails are important,” she said “Also, hate crimes need to be reported to the FBI as it seems that they are keeping closer tabs on these cases than the local PD. I do not believe that its coincidence that we saw these upticks in hate crimes in the month leading up to our election. Our neighborhood has never seen anything like this before and in the 30 days leading up to the vote we saw a strong anti-LGBTQ campaign in this town which was fueled by misinformation and manufactured fear.
“There was a massive sign put on a trailer and towed around town with anti-LGBTQ propaganda, online memes circulating like crazy, etc. I have no doubt that the disgusting rhetoric that was spewed in our small town by these anti-Hartland extremists, those who don’t even live in our community or have kids here, leading up to the May election really fueled and emboldened the racists and bigots to act on their hate.”