The VICE Guide to Right Now

A New Yorker Is Facing Eviction for Hanging Confederate Flags in His Windows

Though the flags have been up for months, neighbors have called on the apartment building's owners to take them down in the wake of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
August 21, 2017, 10:48pm
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

A landlord is suing to evict a tenant from his Lower Manhattan apartment after the Confederate flags he hung up in his windows led one local to hurl rocks and another to punch through the glass, DNAInfo reports.

William Green has leased the fifth-floor apartment in New York City's East Village since 1996, and, according to the lawsuit, has repeatedly violated the "objectionable conduct" clause of his lease and the city's Rent Stabilization Code. The property owner claims Green really hasn't been a model tenant since moving in, alleging that he's tossed garbage from his windows, chucked a TV down the building's stairs, and blasted offensive music from his apartment. A nearby resident said Green has also shouted racial epithets at people on the street below, DNAInfo reports.

But the owner didn't move to evict Green until filing the lawsuit on Saturday, a week after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one woman dead and brought a simmering debate in the US about Confederate symbols and hate groups to a boil. Late last week, that debate spilled into the East Village, where locals became enraged at the sight of the Confederate flags Green had displayed in his windows.

On Wednesday, video surfaced of a man hurling rocks at Green's apartment and threatening to break the windows from which the flags hung, DNAInfo reports. "My kids gotta see that shit," he yelled. "Take it down." Police pulled up to the scene and tried (but failed) to make contact with Green twice, deciding to stand guard outside of the building for the night out of an "abundance of caution." Then on Friday, nearby resident Darren Keen was arrested after reportedly scaling the building and punching through Green's window.

The flags have hung, backlit, from the apartment windows for months—he hung Iron Crosses before that—but the display has now left tenants afraid for their safety, the lawsuit alleges. It claims several have emailed the building manager asking him to address the situation, adding that they've faced threats in connection with the display. Landlord Charles Yassky threatened to post Green's photo and contact info on the building's door if he didn't remove the flags. By Saturday, they'd been taken down. The lawsuit asks for permission to keep Green's flags off the windows permanently.

Green's neighbor told the New York Daily News she thought he might suffer from mental illness, and that she didn't know "if he understands what that flag represents." The lawsuit describes him as "a clearly disturbed individual," and alleges he once tried to throw himself from his fifth-floor window.

As local Councilwoman Rosie Mendez wrote in a statement last week, the controversy comes down to an issue of free speech—and while Yassky might be able to boot Green from the apartment for violating his lease, legally, he can decorate his windows however he likes.

"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," Mendez wrote. "We all have a First Amendment right to free speech. Displaying a flag, in and of itself, is not illegal."

Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.