Burned Flag Pole at 31st and Barclay Streets

Looking up at a blue sky and porch roof. There is an empty flag pole on the house. There is a green tree at the right of the picture.

I grabbed my bike on Wednesday morning to pedal up and around to Hampden for a much-needed session with my therapist. I got a text just as I was leaving the house from our neighbor, letting me know the fire down the block had destroyed three houses, and “Word is that it was started because someone set a rainbow flag on fire. It’s terrible.” I called my wife to let her know, got out of the alley, headed down Barclay Street to see what was going on. I ran into S.–he told me the same thing. I was in shock.

These are our neighbors, and they have lost everything. The four alarm fire just utterly destroyed these homes. The street was crawling with cops and firefighters, and the ATF and FBI were there, too. Odette Ramos, our city councilmember, was there, too. She just lives a block over. These are her neighbors, too, and the sadness was palpable. Three people in the hospital, she said, but two were already out, the third kept as a precaution. They are going to be ok. Three pet cats perished in the fire. The homes are a total loss. The ATF and FBI are here, so many cops. What it means to be ok changes so quickly.

I pedaled by, tears in my throat, headed to therapy. I told her what happened, that I was shaken, but that I couldn’t talk about it right then. I had other things I needed to talk about, but I needed her to know what was happening in my background. We have a pride flag on our porch, and we care about our neighbors. It’s a lot.

After therapy I took the bike over to Druid Hill Park to see how the set up for this weekend’s AFRAM Festival was going. Lots of tree trimming and temporary electrical installations, if you’re curious. The pool is gorgeous. People setting up camp chairs in shady spots, cars blasting music, dogs yapping around, speedwalkers speedwalking, another perfect day in my favorite park. I saw a helicopter circling the skies west. There is so much pain and loss in this city, and also so much joy. We are ok, ok?

I rode home, hopped off the bike early to greet my neighbors sitting across the street from the burned homes, in need of company. I snapped this picture of my neighbor’s burned flag pole. Her house didn’t catch on fire. Was it meant to? There were fires on the other side of Greenmount, too–a car and a dumpster. Last week, someone set fire to the signs and furniture outside My Mama’s Vegan. Are these things all related? Do we have a firebug? Is it a hate crime? Does it matter if it was a hate crime if we experience it as a hate crime? Is the fire worse than other fires because of this? If it was an electrical fire (it wasn’t–it was intentionally set), what kind of crime is that? There are no resources for people to upgrade their electrical systems–these fires are so common. Why do we always have an extra billion dollars for war, but not for keeping each other alive and thriving? Where do we take this sadness, knowing how much sadness there is to go around, so many layers, everywhere?

It was a hard day, made easier by the reminders from strangers enjoying the park, neighbors checking in on each other, and friends spending time with me. It’s a rollercoaster, and I’m glad I get to ride it with these people in this place.

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