Kids in the 200 block of South Harvey Avenue have been drawing rainbows on sidewalks in support of the LGBTQ community after the block had a string of six pride flag thefts – all of which were reported to the police.
“It felt really nice to see the kids out in front of my house drawing a rainbow flag on the sidewalk,” said Greg Raub, who lives on the block with his husband. Raub also sits on the board of Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA+).
The rainbow flag thefts started the night of June 16 when two flags were taken, and the flagpoles broken.
“The first time it happened, I guess I kind of wrote it off as a prank,” said Raub.
Police officers came to the neighborhood to investigate. Raub sent out a block email alerting neighbors to what happened.
“At least two people replied and said, ‘Well we need to show our support. Where can we buy flags?'” said Raub. “Within a couple of days, there were a couple more flags flying.”
But the flag thefts continued. Sometime during the night of June 23 and the early morning hours of June 24, two more flags, one of which belonged to Raub, were stolen. Both flagpoles were also damaged.
Flags from the first two incidences were recovered a block away tangled in bushes.
On June 25, two flags went missing again, including one that had been previously stolen and rehung with hooks.
“It was literally ripped down,” said Raub. “The flag was ripped.”
The thefts began to feel less coincidental and more like targeted homophobic sentiment, especially considering the timing during June which is LGBTQ pride month.
“That’s the only thing I can think of at this point,” said Raub.
One household had both a rainbow and American flag flying; while the pride flag was stolen, the American flag was left hanging.
The 200 block of South Harvey Avenue is particularly family-oriented, with about 18 children under the age of 10 living there.
After the block’s third instance of pride flag thefts, kids began to drawing pride symbols with a particular color scheme.
“All the families with kids, they brought out their sidewalk chalk and went around the block coloring rainbow flags and rainbow designs,” said Raub. “It was very nice.”
“The LBTQ community has had high visibility for a long time (in Oak Park),” said Raub. “But yes, this kind of thing still happens. It’s hard to understand.”
These particular rainbow flag thefts could be considered a hate crime. If caught, the perpetrator or perpetrators could face felony charges.
Raub said the Oak Park Police Department has been very responsive and taken the thefts seriously, patrolling the area with greater frequency.
Despite the ugly nature of the flag thefts, the neighborhood’s show of solidarity with the LGBTQ community has made the experiences a bit more positive. Raub noticed people out walking stop to take pictures of the sidewalk rainbows.
“As a gay man, it’s so good for me to see all the flags on the block,” Raub said. “It’s just nice to walk down the block and see all of them.”