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GLN IN THE PRESS

Homeless Woman Charged with Merlo Fire

2006-06-28

BY AMY WOOTEN

Windy City Times - LINK

A 21-year-old homeless woman has been charged with starting the June 13 fire that destroyed 100 books at John Merlo Branch Library, many from the GLBT collection, but there are no indications that it was a hate crime.

“She said that she started the fire in the library because one of the librarians was snobby towards her,” said John Gorman, a spokesperson for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. “She said she sought a secluded area in the library to set the fire.”

The news comes as a relief to Chicago’s GLBT community. In the aftermath of the fire, many were angered by the Chicago Police Department’s initial response to not investigate the incident as a hate crime because of a lack of a motive. Many gay activists felt the motive was crystal clear and that the timing of the arson was no coincidence, with the GLBT community making headlines in its fight against a possible anti-gay marriage referendum. The fire also occurred just days before the annual Pride Parade, and just weeks before Chicago hosts Gay Games VII.

Gorman added that Erica Graham started the blaze with matches, and said she did not know what books she had set fire to on the second floor of the North Side library. “There was nothing said about [ a hate crime ] ,” he said.

Books from the library’s African-American history section were also destroyed.

Graham was charged with one count of attempted aggravated arson after being arrested June 21. She appeared in court before Judge Thomas Hennelly the following day, who set bond at $75,000. Graham is due to appear in court again on July 13.

The day before Graham’s arrest, Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) held a protest vigil on the one-week anniversary of the book-burning, and just hours after the Chicago Police Department publicly announced it would investigate the incident as a hate crime.

On June 20—the same day as Mayor Richard M. Daley’s annual Pride Month Reception—police officials said they had not ruled out the possibility that the arson was a hate crime, and that they had been investigating it as such since day one.

“When one group is attacked, all groups can be attacked,” said GLN’s Andy Thayer, who felt that the outcries of the GLBT community pushed detectives to start investigating the blaze as a possible hate crime.

The library has said it will replace all of the books destroyed in the fire. The branch has roughly 1,000 books in its GLBT collection.



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