EAST VILLAGE — A pair of Confederate flags hanging in the windows of a building on East Eighth Street has enraged passersby — leading a man to hurl rocks at the residence and forcing police officers to stand guard outside.
The Confederate flags — which neighbors said have hung in the windows for at least months, along with a pair of Israeli flags — stirred outrage this week after white supremacist groups demonstrated in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, leaving a woman dead.
On Wednesday morning, an incensed man was caught on video pelting the building at 403 E. Eighth St., at Avenue D, with rocks and threatening to break the windows while shouting at an unseen man he believes may be the flag-bearer.
WARNING: Graphic Language
Video Credit: Jannette Brown
Neighbors described the resident who hung the flags as a man in his late 30s or early 40s. The building's superintendent, who declined to give his name, said the man has been living in the building for 12 years.
Neighbors couldn't agree on how long the flags had been in the windows, but many said it had been at least months, maybe years. One building resident said they had been there since at least November of last year, while a neighbor less than a block away said they had been there since last summer.
Neighbor Jannette Brown, who shot video of the rock thrower, said the flags have hung in the windows for years, but that locals are newly shaken by their presence since the events in Charlottesville.
"I've seen this for a while here, it's been there, nobody said anything," she explained. "Now they're going crazy because of what's going on."
Police who responded to the scene Wednesday morning after receiving a call about the rock thrower tried to make contact with the resident but were unable to reach him, the NYPD said.
Officers returned again Wednesday night, just before 9 p.m., and tried to reach the man a second time, to no avail, police said. They then posted outside the building out of an "abundance of caution," the NYPD said.
The building faces the Lower Eastside Girls Club, members of which can be seen in the video being ushered inside during the rock thrower's tirade that morning.
Photos of the flags started circulating online Monday, drawing irate comments from locals, including suggestions to throw rocks or bricks through the building's windows. One post has been shared over 2,200 times since it was first posted Monday morning.
Many people passing by the building Tuesday night were caught off guard, stopping to stare and expressing alarm at the display.
"Oh, holy s--t," said Stephanie Billafana, 25, as she gazed up at the windows.
Billafana, who has lived on East Fifth Street for years, said she was certain the flags were a new addition as she had never seen them before.
"I feel like this is because Donald Trump being president now, they feel like it's OK to show their racism," she said.
Another neighbor said she found the flag deeply unnerving in light of the events in Charlottesville, where white supremacists had flocked to protest the removal of a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
"That's not even OK — I don't find that amusing at all, especially with what's happening," said India Ortiz, 20, who lives less than a block away from the building.
"It's kind of scary, because who would have even thought something like this would happen nearby?"
The flag-bearer's neighbor said he has been caught in the crossfire, as passerby assume the flags are his and shout up at him if he's leaning out the window to smoke a cigarette.
"It's, 'You supremacist,' that sort of thing," said Ethan Turnbull, 25, adding he has never felt endangered but does worry about his girlfriend.
"It's not so much myself — I live with my girlfriend and I guess, she's a young lady, so I don't want her to feel threatened in any way," he said.
The tenant who hung the flags did not answer the door despite multiple attempts to reach him, and a phone message left for him was not returned.
A man who identified himself as the building's manager Wednesday said he was trying to get the resident to remove the flags.
"We're obviously addressing this," said the manager, who declined to provide his name, "and we're trying to resolve it right now."
Local Councilwoman Rosie Mendez released a statement Thursday asking the resident to remove the flags, but cautioning neighbors not to take matters into their own hands.
"There have been reports made to my office of counter actions taking place at the residence that are alarming and illegal," she said. "You can voice your displeasure, but you cannot throw objects at the windows, to the building or block anyone’s entrance or exit to the building.
"While this display may be offensive to many of us, please know that each and every one of us has rights and protections under the United States Constitution. We all have a First Amendment Right to Free Speech. Displaying a flag, in and of itself, is not illegal and there are no legal actions that can be taken to have this individual remove the flags from his/her windows."