Lumen Gallery in Capitola Village.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
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After Lumen Gallery Pride flag stolen again, Capitola police investigating latest theft as hate crime

Lumen Gallery’s Pride flags were stolen this past weekend for the second time in just two months. Capitola police are investigating the incident as a hate crime and weighing options for how to prevent future theft and vandalism.

Capitola police are investigating another theft of the Lumen Gallery’s Pride flags, this past weekend, as a hate crime. The art store in Capitola Village has seen its flags stolen multiple times, with the previous incident happening just over a month ago, in early July.

The flags are versions of the American flag with traditional rainbow Pride colors, along with other LGBTQ+ symbols, on them.

Lumen Gallery owner Cierra Ryczek was not working this weekend, but said that two of her employees were on shift on Saturday when they noticed a few “teenage-aged boys” loitering near the front of the store. They quickly pulled up face masks, pulled down one of the gallery’s Pride flags and took off running.

“Someone yelled at them and told them what they were doing wasn’t cool, but nobody stopped them, so they got away,” said Ryczek.

She said the store’s second flag was missing the following morning, but that no one saw it happen as far as she and the rest of the Lumen Gallery staff know.

Ryczek has been flying Pride flags at the front of Lumen’s store since summer 2022, partly in response to an increase in pro-law enforcement Thin Blue Line and American flags around the village. She first noticed that one of Lumen’s flags had been taken in spring of this year. Nearly a week later, another one went missing. Flag thieves targeted her store again in July.

Following the incident in early July, Ryczek got in touch with the Capitola Police Department, which said it would begin assisting with surveillance to prevent future vandalism and theft.

Capitola Police Captain Sarah Ryan said police had installed additional surveillance cameras to monitor the storefront, and detectives are currently reviewing footage. The masks of the perpetrators of the most recent incident conceal their identities on the video, Ryan said, but it will be investigated as a hate crime due to repeated targeting of the Pride flags.

“It’s not great when people wear masks and hats,” she said. “As long as we can locate a suspect, it’s considered a hate crime as far as we’re concerned, and we’ll push that forward as much as we can.”

An American flag decorated with Pride colors on the
An American flag decorated with Pride colors in the storefront window of Ethos in Capitola Village.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Ryan said Capitola PD will consider moving its cameras to different locations for better vantage points, continue the increased patrols in the village the agency began following July’s theft, and look into adding more lighting near village businesses to deter criminal activity.

Ryczek added that, as with the previous flag thefts, it’s obvious to her that Lumen Gallery is the main target.

“It definitely is clear that the content of my flags are being targeted, because the other flags in the village are not being touched,” she said.

Ryczek said she is holding off on putting up new ones until detectives finish reviewing footage — but that she is not “accepting defeat.”

“It’s not fair for my staff to have to be dealing with this,” she said. “It’s a stress that we shouldn’t have to be dealing with as a small business.”

Ryczek added that, after repeated thefts, this feels as though it’s a larger issue than it first appeared: “I didn’t feel this was the type of community that I was living in.” She urges residents to come together.

“We should all be supporting this and doing something about it because we’re failing our underrepresented communities by just looking the other way,” she said. “It feels like this is the perfect time to do something about this.”

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