A black family who supported Barack Obama and who has a long-standing record of disputes with neighbors reported had the U.S. flag displayed at their home set on fire late Tuesday November 4th, 2008. Detailed report published by the Ogden Standard-Examiner; additional reports published by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL Channel 5.
The Toles family returned home at 4231 S. 675 E. around 10:30 P.M. Tuesday after working the polls on Election Day. Just minutes before walking inside, they heard the news that Obama had won, and they walked into the house, cheering his victory.
"We were just so happy. We were really into this election, not so much because he's a black person. If it had been another black man who wouldn't change things, I wouldn't have voted for him," said Debbie Toles Sackie. "I didn't vote for the black man or the white man, I voted for the right man. I told the kids, 'Now you can do anything you want with your life.' I also told them they couldn't go to school and gloat, that they needed to carry themselves with dignity", Sackie concluded.
The family decided to celebrate Obama's victory by hanging an American flag on the roof directly over their front door. A short time later, Anthony Toles, Sackie's brother, was sitting on the couch in the front room when he saw the flag burning. He ran outside, pulled the flag down and stomped out the flames.
The family was emotional and teary-eyed Wednesday while recounting the incident. "I didn't know what to say but, 'Oh my God, who burnt the flag?' They've gone too far. I can't be proud there's a black president? I never thought I'd have to be afraid of this happening," Sackie said. Alexander Toles, holding the burned flag, said, "I was so proud to put this up, and then it killed me to tear it down while on fire". Adding to the family's trauma is the fact that some family members had previous experience with a house fire in New York. KSL news video embedded below:
However, there is much more to the story. It appears that there have been numerous petty disputes between the Toles family and their neighbors over the years. There have been a number of calls to South Ogden police made both by the Toles family and neighbors, the great majority dealing with noise and nuisance complaints. Neighbors said they have had problems with the family for years and they "don't really care what happens over there anymore".
One neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said the Toles family is always crying racism and admitted to being part of the concerns when the family first moved in. "It wouldn't surprise me if they set the fire themselves to stir things up and make us look bad", said the neighbor. But the neighbors denied any racism on their part, blaming the tension on the problems the family caused over the years.
The Toles family is upset by the neighbors' accusation that they are to blame for the fire, and still believe there are discrimination and race issues in every direction they look. They claim they never heard a racial slur until they moved to South Ogden. Donna Toles acknowledges there have been problems between the family and neighbors, but they are still baffled as to why anyone would burn their flag. The Toleses are the only blacks on the block and said they have had problems in the neighborhood since they first moved in about 10 years ago. The family said neighbors started a petition to get them out of the house when they first moved in.
South Ogden Mayor George Garwood, who is black, said Wednesday he is aware of the incident and the possible racial issues in the neighborhood, but is surprised by the way the Toleses are being treated. He reports that he has not felt any real prejudice despite living in a predominantly white community. According to City-Data.com and Zipskinny, South Ogden is only 1.3 percent black at a maximum. But he strongly reiterated that he would not tolerate someone coming on people's private property and destroying their belongings. South Ogden police are investigating and are not ruling out the possibility of a hate crime at this point.
Meanwhile, the Toles family has chosen to respond to this incident by displaying two U.S. flags on their property. One of the replacement flags was given to them by a neighbor.
Analysis: While it is not unheard of for "victims" to stage their own hate crimes, it does seem illogical that the Toles family would stage this, particularly on a night when one of their own got elected President of the United States. Furthermore, the Deseret News reported that someone driving a yellow vehicle was behaving suspiciously in the area before the fire broke out.
The persistent disputes between the Toles and their neighbors are probably driven by the Toles' behavior. Are they an "active" family which engages in substantial hooting and hollering at all hours of the day? Do they chronically annoy their neighbors with loud music? These are questions which must be resolved in order to mitigate this problem. Behavioral changes by the Toles may be warranted.
Nevertheless, vandalizing one's personal property is never acceptable under any circumstances. The perpetrators need to be brought to justice - without transforming it into another Jena Six spectacle.