A day after an arsonist torched three rowhomes, one of which had an LGBTQ pride flag hanging on its porch, residents of Baltimore’s Abell and Charles Village neighborhoods gathered Thursday evening to pick up pride flags and flagpoles.
The cast of characters picking up flags ranged from older adults to small children escorted by their parents and everyone in between.
The plan was simple: Every house willing to display one would get one of the colorful flags, sending a clear message of solidarity and resilience to the arsonist. Flags For Good, an Indiana-based company that makes flags promoting progressive messages, donated more than 200 pride flags, having them shipped overnight.
“We stick together,” Baltimore City Councilwoman and Abell resident Odette Ramos said about her neighbors coming out to show support.
Early Wednesday morning fire was set to a pride flag hanging from a home on East 31st Street. Almost simultaneously, another fire was set to one across the street. That blaze spread, destroying the homes, displacing the residents and rattling their neighbors. Three people were injured. One person, an older man, remains in intensive care but is expected to recover, Ramos said.
Although ready to display their support for one another, many residents declined to speak on the record about the fires, saying they were concerned about the possibility of future incidents.
Baltimore Police, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the source of the blaze. Although it’s not officially ruled a hate crime, the neighborhood’s residents struggle to see it any other way.
“We don’t know if it was a hate crime, we just know it feels that way,” Ramos said.
A Baltimore Police detective was seen knocking on doors and interviewing residents, trying to get any information about who is responsible. Investigators are looking into at least two other fires from the same time, a car and trash fire, to see whether they’re related.
The house fire was so hot, the lamppost in front of the home is melted and warped. The front porches of two of the homes — the neighborhood is full of grand front porches — are gone now. The windows and doors have all been boarded up. Ramos said the owners want to rebuild, but that will take years.
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Still, there are signs of life and community. A young girl drew a heart and sun in chalk on the sidewalk out front. A unicorn was left by the front door where an older gay couple lived.
A next-door neighbor who had his porch charred and lost some of his windows in the fire took the honor of hanging pride flags on the boarded-up windows of each of the homes. The man declined to give his name out of concerns for his safety.
“The good part is the community came together,” he said. “But it’s through tragedy. That’s what hurts.”
Across the street where the other flag burned, a neighborhood organizer named Ben installed a flagpole for a woman who’s lived on the block for more than 20 years. It was the third flag he installed that night, and he had plans to keep going until every house had one.
“I’m just really angry about all this,” said Ben, who carried a ladder and drill.
The woman he hung the flag for, Sarah Williams, said she’s worried the arsonist might come back and burn hers. But it’s a risk she will take.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she said.