Words: Steve Brown
A man is facing hate crime charges after he stole LGBT flags from a church on six separate occasions.
Ronald Witt, 21 of Sayville in Long Island, was arrested this week after continuously stealing a rainbow flag from the Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ on six separate occasions.
Pastor Ray Banguolo said the first incident happened in July but didn’t report it until the second incident occurred two weeks later.
He said: “At first I thought it had just been blown off or maybe somebody was messing with it, but then it started happening on a regular basis.
“Two weeks later, it happened again.”
The flags were also reported stolen from the same church in September, October and November.
Banguolo posted a sign outside the church which read: “You destroyed our welcoming Rainbow Flag twice.
“It WAS an act of fear. It IS an act of hate. Do you realize that? IT WAS NOT KIND. IT IS HURTFUL.
“Instead of doing it again, talk with us. We will talk with you. You, too, are welcome here.”
After the fourth flag was stolen, Banguolo refused to replace the flag until surveillance cameras were installed, which the Suffolk County police Hate Crime Unit set up in September.
Witt was arrest at his home this week and Banguolo said: “This 21-year-old person who’s in a heap of trouble and at least at this point is accused of hate crimes, that’s a horrible thing.
“I feel for him, I feel for his family.”
Witt was charged with six counts of petit larceny as a hate crime. His bail was set at $12,000 and if released, he will have supervised release and will have to wear a GPS.