Gabrielle Hysinger stopped her car in the middle of Avenue D and stepped out to stare at the pair of Confederate flags.
“This is really sick,” she said on Wednesday, looking up at the flags hanging from a fifth-floor apartment window across from a public housing project in Manhattan’s East Village. The flags, according to several neighbors who know their owner, might be as much a product of mental illness as they are of racism.
Hysinger, 25, said it was her first time seeing the flag in her neighborhood.
“I’m trying to figure out who lives there,” she said. “There’s a lot of minorities here.”
The apartment building across from the Jacob Riis Houses has flown two large Confederate flags, several Israeli flags, and an American flag for months, other neighbors said. It was only after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend that the whole neighborhood took notice of Confederate flags across from their homes.
Someone threw a rock at the window on Wednesday morning, the apartment building’s superintendent Ruben Vargas told The Daily Beast.
“This just started. This blew up two, three days ago,” Vargas said. “He’s had it up five months already. Just recently with this incident in Virginia, people are getting heated around here, especially in the projects.”
Until then, the tenant had been a building nuisance. Two neighbors were scared of him, Vargas said, and a third had moved out “because he goes off on a rampage inside the apartment throwing things around.” Multiple people described the tenant as mentally ill.
“Some days he’s talking to you, then you see him again and he’s out cursing and saying racist words. ‘Heil Hitler,’ all these things,” Vargas said.
In a deli at the bottom of the building, lifelong neighborhood resident Brandon Adams called the flags an attack on the neighborhood.
“This is New York. It’s very strange and awkward for this to happen,” Adams, 27, said. “People don’t realize how offensive it is. It’s like a slap in the face, because you know you’re in a predominantly black neighborhood. To do that is just not right.”
The tenant has lived in the building for 12 years. Across the street, black residents who had lived in the neighborhood even longer looked at the window in disgust.
“I’m upset. This is my block. I grew up here,” Gene Bethea said, pushing his son in a stroller. “What gives you the right to come to the ’hood and do that?”
Bethea said he tried to ignore the flags at first, but that the events of Charlottesville had cast the banners in a grim new light. “It’s like, come on man,” he said. “What are you doing?”
Neighbor Adecia Bolds, who was walking with her daughter, said she wasn’t about to go investigating.
“You don’t want to ask him,” she said, gesturing up at the apartment and miming somebody being pulled through the door. “It’s probably somebody that’s stuck in the past… Out of every hundred people, you probably have 10 that are just ‘out there.’ Just fools. It’s up to us to keep our spirits going.”
But in the wake of Charlottesville, some neighbors say it’s time for the flags to come down.
“People spoke on this. People were going to throw shit at his window,” Bethea said. “But that’s like fighting fire with fire. You can’t do that.”
Vargas said he’d reported the flags to the property manager, who planned on addressing the issue in court. And just that day, police officers had visited the apartment “and tried to make him take [the flags] down,” Adams said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, police had not succeeded, although two were stationed in a parked squad car directly outside the building door. “We’re just here because we’re just here,” one officer said, declining to comment further. Bethea said the car was usually not stationed there.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. I think it’s crazy in a neighborhood like this,” Bethea said, but “if that hadn’t happened, the situation down South, no one would have taken notice.”
—with additional reporting by Alex Brook Lynn