'Our neighborhood is not going to be defined by a few bigots;' Tree Streets neighbor speaks out after rainbow flag theft escalates

Nathan Baker • Updated Nov 13, 2017 at 6:36 PM

Johnson City police are investigating an extreme case of vandalism outside a residence overnight Friday, an escalation after a series of petty crimes that some believe may be motivated by prejudice.

Tree Streets neighborhood resident Amber Floyd Lee said loud talking and noises outside her home woke her at 2 a.m. Saturday. She went downstairs to investigate, but by the time she got up and looked through her front windows, whoever was making the noise was gone.

In the morning, Lee said she noticed the flag pole and rainbow flag previously attached to her front stoop was missing, and small bits of melted, multicolored nylon were stuck to her hedge and front walkway.

She wasn’t especially surprised by the missing flag — rainbow flags, a symbol of LGBTQ pride, have been sporadically stolen in the neighborhood for almost a year.

What most concerned her after reviewing footage from a surveillance camera covering her stoop was watching the trespasser set the flag on fire, leaving to let it burn, then returning and stealing the remains of the flag and the pole.

“I don’t know if I’m being specifically targeted, I have been outspoken about being supportive of our neighbors, I’m not a member of the LGBTQ community, but I am an ally,” Lee said Monday. “The ‘youthful pranks’ explanation doesn’t work for me anymore, because they set fire to it while it was attached to my house.”

In February, after a cow carcass and nails were dumped in front of a house on Maple Street that kept rainbow flags flying from its porch, Lee, along with other members of the South Side Neighborhood Organization organized a campaign to provide neighbors with flags to show support.

Last month, Lee said another flag was ripped from her stoop, and several neighbors said their flags were stolen since February.

According to Johnson City Police Department records, 12 flags have been reported stolen over the last nine months.

Investigator Josh Morgan said Lee’s two cases and two other reports of flags stolen over the weekend are being treated as vandalism. The burning of the flag at Lee’s house was not considered arson because the structure of the home was not set on fire, he said.

Morgan said the incidents from over the weekend are likely related, but he wouldn’t speculate about the other, similar crimes’ relationship to them.

He asked potential witnesses to make a report by calling the department’s Criminal Investigations Division at 423-434-6166, or to remain anonymous, the Crime Stoppers tipline at 423-434-6158.

Lee said she already has another flag hanging from a wreath on her front door, and she’ll buy another pole soon to mount it on.

“Want it to be known that they’re not going to win,” she said. “Our neighborhood is not going to be defined by a few bigots. We’re progressive and supportive, and we take care of each other.”

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