An East Bay family is shocked and unsettled after someone cut electricity to their home and planted 56 American flags, seven of which were defaced with handwritten pro-Donald Trump messages, on their front lawn early Saturday morning.
Concord police are investigating the incident, reported by Jay and Denisen Hartlove, who live on Montana Drive in Concord.
The couple was preparing for bed just after midnight when Jay heard someone fiddling with their screen door. When he went to check out the noise, he says he found scores of plastic American flags staked into his front lawn, and a man — believed to be a neighbor with whom the family has had previous issues — skulking away from the house.
Some of the flags had "Build The Damn Wall" and "I Luv The Donald" written on them in black ink. The Hartloves say they are one of the more liberal families on the block, and believe they may have been targeted because of it.
"Why would someone do that?" Jay wondered. "I mean, (the vandal) must have spent 20 minutes out there putting the flags in. This is not some drive-by prank….I mean, where do you get 56 flags in November?"
Upon finding the flags, the couple was irked but not worried.
"We tried to brush it off – Trump flags aren’t going to hurt anyone," Denisen said. "We sort of made light of the situation, like ha ha ha." The couple confronted the neighbor who they think is responsible, but neither Jay nor Denisen got a response.
A short time later, at about 1:30 a.m., the situation became more serious. The Hartloves heard a huge bang and were plunged into complete darkness.
At first, they thought the abrupt loss of electricity could be related to the fireworks going off in the street hours earlier, but they soon discovered that the metering box connecting power to their property had been ripped off. It was then that they became worried and frightened for their safety, and the safety of their two daughters, who were asleep in bed.
"At that point, I thought we were under attack," Denisen said.
The couple called the Concord Police Department and filed a police report with two officers, both of whom the Hartloves describe as being "very unhelpful."
"They basically said that because (the neighbor) denied doing it, they couldn’t do anything," Jay said.
The entire experience, from the vandalism to the Concord police "not taking the situation seriously," has left the family reeling, according to Denisen.
"This is our home," she said. "We should be able to feel safe in our home."
Chris Blakely, a public information officer with the Concord Police Department, said that officers are investigating, and noted that a detective has already been assigned to the case. A follow-up is scheduled for Monday, he said.
"For us to do our job efficiently, we have to make sure that we get all the information," Blakely said. "That includes taking photographs, talking to neighbors, seeing if anyone has surveillance footage. It’s not as quick as some people want, but we do take it seriously."
Throughout the Bay Area and the nation, politically-motivated instances of harassment are being reported at an alarming rate, according to hate-tracking groups. As of Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center had noted 701 reports of harassment since election day.
Many critics have pointed to President-elect Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric as fueling the incidents. In a sit-down interview with 60 Minutes, Trump told any of his supporters engaging in the behavior to "stop it."
Meanwhile, the Hartloves, who have lived on Montana street for 20 years, are in the process of installing surveillance cameras around their home — a security measure they never thought they would need in their safe, suburban neighborhood.
"We like our house. We like the street. We like our neighbors. With very few exceptions, it’s a wonderful place to be," Denisen said. "But, at this stage, I don’t know that I’m not going to wake up with the house burning down around me."
For her, the silver lining on a dark cloud has been the neighbors — Republican and Democrat — who have stepped up to condemn the vandalism.
"We had quite a few neighbors offer support and say ‘You know what, that’s not okay. It doesn’t matter who you voted for, that’s not an okay thing to do,’" she recalled. "They offered us help, and that was really nice to see. It was just really nice to see people step forward from our community."
Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for NBC Bay Area. Contact her at Gillian.Edevane@NBCuni.com or through text or call at (669) 263-2895.
Photo Credit: Gillian Edevane
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