JeDonna Dinges’s ex-husband was walking through the alleyway next to their house in suburban Detroit, Michigan, last month when he noticed a red flag hanging in the neighbor’s window. Startled, he went inside to tell her.
“He informed me that there was a flag in the neighbor’s window that said something about the Invisible Empire. I had no idea what it meant,” Dinges, who is Black, said in an interview with The Washington Post. Darrell, her ex-husband, who is White and lives with Dinges, explained it was a Ku Klux Klan flag.
In disbelief, Dinges, 57, went to the dining room and opened the curtains.
“Staring right at me was this Klan flag,” she said.
It was the latest incident in a tense relationship with their neighbor, a 31-year-old White man who has not been publicly identified. But this time was different — Dinges felt unsafe and scared for herself and her 21-year-old daughter.
After going to police and sparking a wave of community support by speaking about the incident, though, Dinges learned on Tuesday that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Democrat, would not pursue charges.
“There is absolutely no question that what happened to Ms. Dinges was despicable, traumatizing, and completely unacceptable. But, very unfortunately in my view, not a crime,” Worthy, who is Black, said in a statement.
Worthy had considered an ethnic intimidation charge but said that crime requires some contact with a victim or their property, such as a physical interaction or directly calling them a racial slur or threatening them. A flag in a window didn’t meet the letter of the law, she said.
“I strongly encourage the Michigan Legislature to look, revise, and create laws to protect citizens from this kind of horrible conduct,” Worthy said in the statement.
Dinges has lived in Grosse Point Park, a northern Detroit suburb of 11,000 people, for about 10 years, she said. She owns a women’s clothing store in nearby Ferndale, Mich.
Dinges said she began having trouble with her neighbor soon after he moved in about five years ago — and she said police were often reluctant to help. One night he went out on his back deck and started shooting a gun in the air, Dinges said. She called 911, and a dispatcher said they would send officers. But they didn’t arrive until the next morning, she said, and left when the man didn’t answer the door.
More recently, a month before Dinges saw the flag, her ex-husband found a full gas can in their recycling bin. She called the police and told the two officers that arrived that she suspected it was her neighbor, who had a history of being hostile and had a second gas can sitting in his yard. But the police said there was nothing they could do, claiming they couldn’t take fingerprints off the can.
“I felt someone was trying to harm or kill me and my family,” Dinges said.
Given that experience with police, Dinges said she was hesitant to call them when her ex-husband saw the flag on Feb. 16.
“Based upon how they acted so cavalierly about something as serious as me finding gasoline on my property, I did not feel particularly comfortable,” she said.
In an interview with Grosse Pointe News, Grosse Pointe Park Interim Public Safety Director Lt. Jim Bostock said he regretted Dinges didn’t feel she would “get the results that she needed” from police.
“That is part of my message to her and to everyone in the community. We are here for everybody, regardless of what you look like,” Bostock said.
Instead, she called the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and the FBI. When both agencies told her they couldn’t do anything about the flag, she took to social media, posting the photos of the flag and describing her experience. The post went viral and soon Dinges was in touch with local media.
Not long after a reporter from WDIV contacted city officials for comment on Feb. 16, two local detectives showed up at Dinges’s house to take a report. They spoke to the neighbor’s girlfriend, who said he put the flag up because he couldn’t afford curtains. She added that they believed the camera Dinges had installed after the gas-tank incident was directed at their window, though Dinges disputed that.
The neighbor took down the flag and the detectives returned to his home with newly purchased curtains.
“It’s comical. You can afford a Klan flag but you can’t afford curtains?” Dinges said. “He does this awful thing and you give him a gift with my tax dollars.”
When they spoke after the flag incident, she said officers advised her to find somewhere else to stay, warning her that she wasn’t safe in her home. But given the pandemic, Dinges refused to leave and questioned why the officers couldn’t provide for her safety.
“I need to feel safe in my home,” Dinges said. “I don’t feel I have the right to bother anybody or make them feel unsafe in their homes and nobody has the right to do that to me.”
Once the story got out, Dinges received calls last month from the mayor and other city and state officials, along with Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., who said she would call the Police Department and demand a hate-crime investigation. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., also posted about her story on Facebook.
The support from the community was overwhelming, Dinges said. “It took my breath away,” she said.
Neighbors reached out, asking how they could help and offering to drop off meals, and one man said he would escort her to her door if she got home late.
On Feb. 21, groups including the NAACP hosted a rally on her street. Dinges said about 800 people showed up, and many left her notes of support. “I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Dinges said. “Many of these people were strangers, they didn’t know me.”
Despite her frustrations with how police handled her case, Dinges said she accepts Worthy’s decision.
“As emotional as this whole thing has been for myself and my family and the community, the prosecutor can’t prosecute based on emotions,” Dinges said. “You have to follow the law and I get that.”
Her experience with the KKK flag, particularly her claims of a lax police response, have resurfaced racial tensions in Grosse Pointe Park, which is predominantly White. Dinges said she met with the interim police chief and city manager to stress why the incidents with her neighbor were particularly frightening for a Black resident.
“I met with them with my attorney and explained to them that there are some things that are undeniably broken in our community. Like clockwork every year there is some kind of racially charged incident,” Dinges said. “I said we have to address what makes this community a feeding ground for hatred.”
Last year a noose was found in a high school. Until last year, the school district had a hotline for people to call if they suspected a student did not live in the district — a system critics said mostly led to calls about Black students, assuming they came into the area from Detroit. Some even followed Black students home to check that their addresses matched up with school records.
Dinges implored the city to employ a more diverse public safety force.
She said she is hopeful that by speaking out, she’s already had an impact. During a diversity and inclusion panel with the city council over Zoom last month, Dinges said a Black man spoke for the first time about being racially profiled by local officers.
“He said he felt comfortable telling his truth because I told mine,” Dinges said. “That is the silver lining. If I give one person the courage to speak out, it’s worth it.”