Officials investigating possible hate crime charges
Note: This story has been updated with information from Moab City Police Chief Bret Edge and Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan.
Moab Arts and Recreation Center staff came to work Friday morning to the sight of an LGBT pride flag that had been cut off from the flagpole from which it had been flying the previous days in what the staff called a “vindictive and hateful act.”
Moab City Police Chief Bret Edge and Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan both said the vandalism could be prosecuted as a hate crime if bias is found.
“Many folks believe that you must have an individual victim to charge a hate crime,” Sloan said. This is not true.”
Sloan said that hate crimes can include those involving property destruction, criminal trespass, theft, obstruction of government operations and “offenses against public order and decency.”
Edge said that the police department “absolutely will not tolerate any form of hate crime and will investigate them to the fullest.”
City police said they do not yet have any leads on the case but asked anybody with information about the vandalism to call the office at 435-259-8938.
Makeda Barkley, an arts and special events assistant for the MARC, said that the vandalism “caused MARC staff to feel anxious and somewhat fearful that this is how the festival weekend has kicked off.”
“We are deeply saddened by this act,” Barkley said. “We fully support the LGBTQ+ community and will continue to fly the rainbow flag with pride.”
Barkley said that the center occasionally gets letters and calls “complaining about the presence of the rainbow flag” in front of the building but that the center flies it nonetheless “to show solidarity and to signify that the MARC is a safe space for all.”
Officials with the City of Moab weighed in Friday to express support for the LGBTQ community, as well, following the vandalism. Mayor Emily Niehaus said that “one act of hatred will be preceded by 1,000 acts of love this weekend at Pride Fest. Love wins.”
Moab City Communications and Engagement Manager Lisa Church said in an official statement from the city that the act was “unacceptable” and that the city fully supports the city’s LGBTQ+ community.
“It is sad and disappointing to see such disrespect toward a part of the Moab community,” the city’s statement said. “However, we do not believe these actions are representative of our city and its residents overall. The City of Moab will continue to celebrate diversity and we condemn any act of hate or intimidation against any segment of our community.”
Members of the Moab City Council also weighed in on Friday. Council member Rani Derasary said that she felt the act communicated “dislike, disrespect,” and “even hatred.”
“This act, whether intended to or not, breeds fear amid the LGTBQIA community and their allies,” Derasary said. “I wholeheartedly condemn the crime of cutting down this flag.”
Council Member Kalen Jones said that it “saddened” him to learn about the vandalism.
“Crimes targeting groups motivated by bias against their members’ sexual orientation or gender identity are completely unacceptable,” Jones said. “I believe that every person, no matter who they are or how they live, has the right to feel welcome and safe, in Moab and beyond.”
Council Member Mike Duncan said the act “disheartens” him to think about and that Moab has an “inclusive, accepting atmosphere for all, and I want to keep it that way.”