JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A Jacksonville homeowners association faces a federal civil rights lawsuit after it told a resident to take down his Black Lives Matter flag even as neighbors flew other political messages, including Blue Lives Matter flags.
Antoine Mickle bought his home by Kernan and Atlantic boulevards nearly 19 years ago. Since then, he said in a Tuesday news conference, he's faced harassment from the association.
"I felt lonely and just all by myself that I couldn’t do anything against this powerful force, an HOA that has attempted to take my home away from me before," he said. "I have been threatened by the HOA. I have been threatened by particular neighbors who stand in front of my yard and gawk until I would leave. I've had harassment for the last 20 years or so from things like I don’t have red mulch in my yard when others [also] don’t have it."
The River Point Community Association board, in a lengthy statement, said that "unfortunately, the homeowner took offense to a letter sent to him that would have been sent to any other homeowners not following Association guidelines that have been in place for some time."
The association said the issue wasn't what was on his flag but the fact that he flew it off of his house and not on a flagpole below the United States flag.
His lawsuit, however, showed pictures of neighbors' homes with flags, including a Blue Lives Matter flag, a Thin Blue Line flag, various Trump flags and flags honoring sports teams. Those flags, similar to Mickle's, flew off of houses, not off of a flagpole.
The board's letter to Mickle said that flags flying off of a house and signs posted in a yard must be "seasonal in nature," while "flags flying underneath the American flag on a flagpole are subject to enforcement under the state statutes, and not subject to enforcement by the Association."
The letter also told Mickle flying his Black Lives Matter flag violated a "nuisance clause" banning "noxious or offensive activities."
Mickle said he received the letter within days of putting the flag up.
The board's statement said it didn't intend to take further action and considered the matter closed. "Unfortunately, this is a politically charged time and the timing was ill-advised. We were obviously not thinking about that and just simply doing our job as we would have with any other type or flag or sign outside of the guideline."
Mickle's attorneys said they would like to see the association institute new policies and undergo training.
"Homeowners associations have a lot of power," Jacksonville attorney David Cronin said. "They have a lot of power in Jacksonville. They can, as we saw in the housing crisis, take your home away from you."
"These folks need to understand and know that this is wrong and by doing this you’re not only harming Mr. Mickle, you’re harming everybody’s right to live in an integrated community," attorney Matt Dietz added.
Keenya Robertson with the HOPE Fair Housing Center in Miami said this was a "modern-day version of discrimination and tactics that are meant to harass and intimidate someone who lives in their community."
Robertson, who also serves as the board chairwoman for the National Fair Housing Alliance, said it was important to take an action like filing a lawsuit so that others would know what housing discrimination looks like.