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Pride Flags Vandalized, Stolen From Shakespeare Bridge During Pride Month

It took a community effort from Franklin Hills residents to catch the offender.

Shakespeare Bridge in Franklin Heights with Pride and Juneteenth flags displayed
Shakespeare Bridge with Pride and Juneteenth flags displayed (Photo: Alex Malek)

In late May, the Franklin Hills Residents Association (FHRA) hung several pride flags from the Shakespeare Bridge in Los Feliz to celebrate Pride month. In the following weeks, they were repeatedly stolen and even slashed, leaving LGBTQ+ residents in the area concerned for their safety. 

Alison Wallace, president of the Franklin Hills Residents Association, called the vandalizations “shocking.” The association has been hanging pride flags on the bridge for several years, and Wallace says there has been no history of anti-LGBTQ crimes.

“At first, we didn’t know [the pride flag] was stolen,” said Wallace. “We thought maybe it got blown down — we didn’t really think it could be that bad. But when the flags were slashed violently, we got alarmed. It’s really concerning.”

The residents association also hung Juneteenth and U.S. flags, but they were not defaced, which is how Wallace came to realize the vandal was specifically targeting the LGBTQ community.

In response, the FHRA hung more pride flags in view of existing security cameras, and Franklin Hills residents placed additional cameras around the bridge. The association also began a flag fund, so they could continue to rehang pride flags as they were stolen — over less than a month, the association hung more than 20 flags.

“We will not give in or give up,” Wallace told Knock LA in mid-June. “Neighbors are coming out of the woodwork to donate to the flag fund. The [culprits] think they are tearing us down, but really they’re uniting the neighborhood.”

Shakespeare Bridge in Franklin Heights with Pride and Juneteenth flags displayed
Shakespeare Bridge in Franklin Heights with Pride and Juneteenth flags displayed (Photo: Alex Malek)

After weeks of repeated thefts, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) arrested Johnny Vargas-Valverde on June 17 after he placed four pride flags from the bridge in his truck and drove away. He was released the same day due to Los Angeles’s zero-bail policy, which prevents non-violent offenders from being jailed before arraignment. 

Vargas-Valverde was caught on security cameras stealing the flags once again on June 19 and was rearrested. A Franklin Hills resident confirmed LAPD’s timeline.

(Note: It is rare for people to be rearrested while out on no bail — a study by the LA County Board of Supervisors showed rearrest rates at only 1% to 2% in 2021. The policy prevents non-violent offenders from losing their jobs, homes, and families while awaiting trial.)

Some LBGTQ residents who live near the bridge were concerned for their safety. According to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, anti-LGBTQ threats by domestic violence extremists are on the rise. 

The uptick comes in the wake of a slew of bills across the country that ban or limit gender affirming and medically necessary healthcare for trans people.

The Los Angeles area has experienced several anti-LGBTQ actions in recent weeks, including one at Saticoy Elementary in North Hollywood and two others at school board meetings in Glendale, one of which ended in violence. At the latter, Knock LA journalist Sean Beckner-Carmitchel discovered stickers with the name and logo of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group.

“It’s time we call out these attempts for what they are: Fascism,” said the Los Angeles LGBT Center in a statement on Instagram.

Wallace says that the LAPD told her they were investigating the Shakespeare Bridge pride flag thefts and vandalizations as a hate crime, which is a felony in the state of California. The LAPD tells Knock LA that they are still determining the charges.

Although the incident shook residents of Franklin Hills, Wallace said the effusion of support from residents was inspiring.

“The outpouring of community members and neighbors asking how they can help [was] just incredible,” said Wallace. “It’s a very open community that encourages each other and celebrates our neighbors. That’s what we’re about.”