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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Intolerance over Pride flag impacts Claremont community

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Part one of two: Fight over flag

It was a routine morning for 10-year Claremont resident Abbie Moore as she woke up and started her day on June 27. All was fine until she noticed something missing from her house: the Pride flag that was hung outside her front porch.

“I was in my kitchen on Sunday and I stepped into my living room where I usually have a really good vantage point of the flag,” she said. “Sometimes the wind wraps it around the pole, but I did not see it at all. I went outside and I looked at the place in front of my house where the pole is mounted and it was gone, the whole thing was gone. The flag, the pole, the mount that was bolted…screwed into the house. Like it’s all gone.”

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She initially thought it fell into the bushes, but after searching it was nowhere to be found. Ms. Moore asked her neighbors and friends if the flag had been there earlier. One neighbor said they did not remember seeing the flag when backing out of the driveway.

“It just felt so unreal, like, did someone come and actually take this?” she questioned.

After some time, she deduced that—best case scenario—some of the neighborhood children took it as a prank. But as she recounted the situation over and over, the reality began to sink in and she realized that someone not only stole her property, but also the perpetrator was mere inches away from her home in the middle of the night. Thankfully her family was on vacation and she was alone at the time.

“Because I was home alone, I felt not just violated because someone stole something that belongs to me, but because someone took down something that is at the core of who I and my family are,” she said. “The only reason I can think of someone doing it…is that someone was offended by my promotion of equality.

“Ripping down someone’s flag or taking their sign or whatever, it communicates the message that your beliefs are not welcome. That your beliefs are so offensive that they can’t be tolerated. That your rights and the rights of people you love are not valid.”

Ms. Moore later called the police, for peace of mind. “I just wanted someone to know that this had happened especially just in case other people were experiencing the same kinds of things.” Unfortunately, what happened to Ms. Moore was not a one-off incident during the month of June, it was the last incident.

Two more incidents

June is widely recognized as Pride month in honor of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, a pivotal event that began the gay liberation movement. During June, some residents felt Claremont fell short by not displaying a pride flag. The city was also left having to answer why two other crimes targeting LGBTQ+ community occurred.

Days before Ms. Moore had her flag stolen, several residents reported two more incidents that happened in June, including another stolen Pride flag.

The cascade of incidents began on Wednesday, June 9 at the Queer Resource Center (QRC) at the Claremont Colleges, reported to campus safety their progress flag had been stolen.

“QRC staff noted that the flag had been torn away leaving behind the white edge area of the flag that had been bolted to the overhang on the south side of the Walton Commons. QRC staff did not find any notes, graffiti or other messages related to the theft and there are no recording cameras in the area.” Laura Muna-Landa director of communications at The Claremont Colleges Services wrote in a news release. “The Campus Safety Department is not aware of previous thefts or similar issues at The Claremont Colleges.”

In addition to the stolen flags, during the June 22 Claremont City Council meeting residents complained about an altercation that occurred in the Village between two groups of minors. One group alleged homophobic slurs were used against a person holding a Pride flag.

The Claremont Police Department (CPD) cautioned against classifying the Village incident as a ‘hate crime,’ as video evidence taken by one of the victims disputes that claim.  Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen said in an email. “There was a reported assault in the Village involving a young adult carrying a pride flag. An assault occurred, but it was unrelated to the fact that a Pride flag was present.”

But Claremont resident Jessica MacLachlan, a parent to one of the victim’s involved in the altercation, disputes the claim by police. “There were statements given to them and those statements do say that Group B was yelling homophobic slurs. And that, it really much feels like they were picking on that pride flag and seeing that pride gear. I’m having a hard time figuring out how the police came to the conclusion that it was not in fact motivated by hate of a certain group of people.”

What then exactly took place? According to CPD, the altercation between the minors happened on June 11 at around 3 p.m. in Village West. Prior to the incident, accounts from CPD and Ms. MacLachlan described three seventh graders from El Roble hanging out in the Village. One child was in possession of a Pride flag, another minor was wearing Pride socks, and another minor was walking with them. This trio will be identified as Group A.

According to Ms. MacLachlan, who recounted what her child had told her, Group A was spotted by a larger group of children who began making them “feel uncomfortable” and shadowing them in the downtown area. Some in the larger group of children then began pelting Group A with homophobic insults (police would not confirm), in addition to telling them to “harm themselves.”

Group A attempted to flee by crossing the street, however, they were followed by the larger group. Three minor females (Group B) are then said to have confronted Group A in the northeastern corner of Indian Hill Boulevard and First Street.

According to CPD Detective Jacob Tillman, “From what was reported to us, the person holding the flag made comments to someone from the other group and that prompted the person from the other group to get in a fist fight with them.”

Police did not say who threw the first punch, but Ms. MacLachlan did. In front of Group A, one of the three female minors is said to have physically struck one of the students from Group A, causing the other two members of Group A to panic and flee. Ms. MacLachlan explained that while another minor from Group A escaped with the Pride flag, the girls from Group B turned and asked her child “if she would like to be next.” The girls are said to have pinned the minor against the wall and got into her face.

An adult witnessing what was unfolding called the police. Though the 911 caller was not identified, Ms. MacLachlan expressed her gratitude when she learned it was a Tri-City mental health worker.

“Tri-City Health actually was in the Village and they did exactly what they’re meant to do. It was the team that works with police to help diffuse situations. They came up and they…spoke to the [larger] group and got the group to disperse,” Ms. MacLachlan said.

According to police, one teen was arrested and transferred to the Pomona Juvenile Court over the altercation. It’s unclear if the 15-year-old teen was charged with anything in connection to the crime.

Asked about if similar events would have transpired without any Pride memorabilia on Group A, Ms. MacLachlan said, “I don’t think it would [have] because you know the children would have sort of just blended in with the crowd.”

The child originally holding the flag recorded the incident on their cell phone and gave the footage to police, according to Ms. MacLachlan.

“I really just also want to make sure that there’s awareness that in our community not everybody is accepted and they should be,” Ms. MacLachlan said. “I think any child should be able to walk through the Village whether they’re LGBTQ or Black or Asian or Latino or anybody should be able to walk in that Village and feel safe. And currently my daughter does not. We need to come together as a community and make it known that that’s just not acceptable.”

“The two incidents in June do not indicate a “trend” in violence or aggression towards the LGBTQ+ community,” Chief Vander Veen wrote in an email.

At the June 22 city council meeting, seven citizens voiced their distaste at what transpired during the previous weeks and requested the city fly the Pride flag during the month of June to show community support. Councilmember Ed Reece asked the city attorney Alisha Patterson if flag flying measures could be reviewed, though it could potentially open a “can of worms.”

In response to the requests, Ms. Patterson explained that while there’s no legal constraint, “when you choose to fly one flag, you’ll probably get requests to fly other flags as well. So, historically Claremont has not opened that door really to anything other than what’s up there today: the American flag. But it’s something we can bring back for the council.”

But with only eight days left in June, the request to hoist the flag was never honored.

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