It took three years for Jennifer McLeggan to boil over, but when she did, it was biblical. On a Friday night this past July, she was desperately afraid, listening to prayers on the stereo and flipping through the Old Testament. A verse from the Book of Habakkuk caught her eye: God said, “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets.” The context didn’t matter; she bought some enormous yellow Post-its, taped them into a 6-foot scroll, and wrote what she’d been trying to say for years.
“My name is Jennifer and I am a single mom and Registered Nurse,” she penned in neat, black Sharpie. “My neighbors have been racially harassing me since I purchased my home.” She lists the dead squirrels in her yard, her neighbor saying that she could be “erased,” and the night he allegedly took a blowtorch to her house in suburban New York. “The police have said I need to be harmed for them to make an arrest,” she wrote. “I live in FEAR for my life.”
In the Book of Habakkuk, a herald is supposed to see the sign and “run with it.” In this case, that herald was Twitter. After McLeggan taped the sign to her front door, it went viral, sparking a rally of over 2,000 people, a GoFundMe, a criminal indictment, and a 90-day civilian patrol led by a Queens rapper and entrepreneur named F.L.O.W.
Despite the flood of support, McLeggan has since moved to Georgia. She prefers it there. In Georgia, “maybe you hate people, but you don’t really bother them, you don’t try to run them out of town.”
Three years earlier, in the spring of 2017, McLeggan was excited about the future. She was pregnant, thriving in her career, and she’d just bought a house in the Long Island suburbs: a spacious, hundred-year-old Dutch colonial on a sprawling corner lot. It was a fixer-upper, but one with great bones and a literal white picket fence. Her long-held dream was to own a home like this one, to raise her child with room to stretch her legs. At 37, she’d finally made it happen. She was ready for her new life.
Before moving, McLeggan, who is Black, didn’t know much about the town of Valley Stream. But she wasn’t worried; Money magazine named it 2017’s “best place to live in New York,” and McLeggan grew up not far away. “I said, ‘Oh, it’s maybe 15, 20 minutes from Queens, so it can’t be wild racist or anything. There’s a hundred million people out here from every ethnicity, name it.’”
She wasn’t totally wrong. In Valley Stream, her new neighbors were Black, white, Latino, Asian. She lived near Muslims and Jews, Christians of all races. The main drag, down the street from her house, was packed with Halal meats, Mexican and Caribbean restaurants, and food from all over Asia. Earlier this year, the real estate website Home Snacks, which uses census and FBI data to rank towns, named Valley Stream the most diverse place in New York, beating New York City itself.
McLeggan might have fit in fine on another block, she says, but “not everyone lives next door to one of the originals.” She means that her closest neighbors, the McEneaney family, have lived in Valley Stream since it was all white. The family’s patriarch, Michael McEneaney, bought his home — a beige colonial with a pointy attic — in the early 1960s. Now 82, he lives there with his adult son, John; John’s partner, Mindy Canarick; and their small, scruffy dog.
The elder McEneaney joined a midcentury mass migration of white New Yorkers to suburban Long Island. These new suburbanites sought respite from cramped city housing — and, often, they left blocks that were beginning to integrate. Valley Stream, on the other hand, stayed white for decades. It wasn’t until the 1990s that residents of color came in significant numbers.
When McLeggan moved to Valley Stream in 2017, she, too, was fleeing the city. All her life, she’d moved from apartment to apartment, ones “so small you could touch both walls if you put your hands out, roaches and rats included.” She wanted better for her daughter.
“So I prayed,” she says. “I did one of those vision board things, and on the vision board I put, like, ‘picket fence,’ ‘fireplace,’ the price that I wanted of the house, and I just worked towards it.” When she closed on the house in Valley Stream — picket fence, fireplace, $375K — she felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. “I bought it on my own. This house was my hard work. I’ve never taken a vacation since I became a nurse, because I’ve just been working to buy this property.” But it felt worth it. Now she could “live the happily ever after.”
When McLeggan moved in, her dreams for the property centered, in large part, on the yard. “You want your daughter to have a yard to play in, a backyard to garden,” she says.
The yard was where her problems began.
The day after McLeggan moved in, Mindy Canarick dropped by to ask that she cut down some overgrown bushes and trees. The gist, as McLeggan remembers, was that “your yard is making it hard for us to enjoy our yard.”
This wasn’t a crazy request. The house was nearly in foreclosure when McLeggan bought it, and it was an eyesore on the block. The paint was hospital green with dingy white trim, the yard was a snarl of bushes, and several enormous trees hung over the power lines. McLeggan promised that she would straighten up the yard, but she asked for patience — cutting down trees isn’t cheap, and she’d just cleaned out her savings to buy the house.
Determined to put her best foot forward in the neighborhood, McLeggan prioritized sprucing the exterior. But the inside — where she was living, pregnant — remained in bad shape. “The boiler broke, the bathtub was leaking into the kitchen sink,” she recalls. “The amount of money I spent cutting down trees — I could have done my kitchen over. I could have done my bathroom over, I could have done my bedroom over, and I didn’t. I used all of that money to fix the outside of the house.”
But as McLeggan made progress on the yard, her neighbors’ complaints didn’t ease. “I cut down one tree, then it was something else and something else.” There was always a new request about the grass or the bushes or the overgrown grape tree in the yard. McLeggan tried to keep up, but in addition to maintaining her home, she had a demanding job and a newborn to raise by herself.
She already felt like she was “cracking” when the dog feces began to appear on her lawn. It was a puzzling development, as McLeggan doesn’t have any dogs.
Two houses down from McLeggan, on the other side of the McEneaneys, lives another Black family: Rob and Syrrea Price. They bought their home in May 2008. It’s neat-kept with two bay windows, a skinny brick chimney, and a lawn of shapely bushes offset from the grass with rows of stones.
When the Prices moved in, the McEneaneys seemed friendly. But around the time of Obama’s election, Syrrea says that she noticed a change. She struggles to pinpoint exactly what that change was (“little things,” she says, “complaints”), but she’s clear on when the dynamic began to feel hostile to her: the “tug-of-war” over the garbage cans.
“Imagine coming home from work. The cops are outside your house, and why are they there? Not because you committed a crime. Because your bush is infringing on the sidewalk.”
For years, Syrrea would come home from work to find the McEneaneys’ garbage cans in front of her house. When she asked about it, she recalls them saying it was “easier for sanitation” this way. That didn’t seem right; the two houses are about 30 feet apart.
Then one day, Price looked out her window into her neighbors’ yard. Michael McEneaney was out back trapping squirrels in a baited cage. “He had a black cement [mixing] bin,” Price recalls, “the kind you get from Home Depot. It was a large one, filled with water.” McEneaney would submerge the cage in the cement bin until the squirrels were drowned, then she remembers him putting the carcasses in a plastic bag. “We came to the conclusion that that’s why we were fighting over the garbage,” Price says. She figured that if sanitation ever noticed any garbage cans full of dead squirrels in front of her house, she would be blamed, not the McEneaneys. (The McEneaneys and Canarick did not return requests for comment or, through a lawyer representing John, respond to the allegations made in this story.)
Price called the village to explain the situation and clarify which cans were hers. “I wanted to let them know in case anything came up, because we were always getting warnings about something.” Since they moved in, the Prices had felt deluged with tickets and verbal warnings from the village — for their landscaping, for parked cars, for having their friends come barbeque.
In one incident, Rob came home from work to find a cruiser outside his house ticketing him for a small, ornamental tree on his lawn. “Imagine coming home from work,” McLeggan says. “The cops are outside your house, and why are they there? Not because you committed a crime. Because your bush is infringing on the sidewalk. And you know who’s complaining.”
Indeed, Syrrea was pretty sure she knew who complained: Michael McEneaney. “That particular day,” she recalls, “Michael was out on his stoop when Rob came home. And he just watched.”
McLeggan also received a series of warnings from Valley Stream — for the height of her shrubs, for instance, and for parking in the wrong spot. She even got a court summons for the fence she erected so that the McEneaneys wouldn’t have to look at her yard. According to Valley Stream’s records, she received only four paper warnings and one summons, but that doesn’t include multiple verbal warnings that she received from village officials. To McLeggan, it felt like she would “clean up outside, go to work, and then come home and there would be a ticket.”
The source of these tickets was Valley Stream Code Enforcement, a department whose public safety mandate (pointing out buckling roofs or hazardous curbs) bleeds into a different sort of mission: preserving property values by regulating residents’ paint colors or grass height, policing the aesthetic character of the town.
McLeggan quickly suspected that Michael McEneaney was the one reporting her. For one, she claims that a code enforcement official admitted it. When she visited the office to explain her situation, she remembers someone reassuring her that it wasn’t her fault, since Michael McEneaney was “difficult to live next to.”
“You’re talking about someone who has lived in the neighborhood for a very long time,” Valley Stream Village Clerk James Hunter says of McEneaney. “You have people like that who know codes and they use them to try to force people into being compliant. It’s not a very nice way of being a neighbor.”
Apparently such code disputes are fairly common, although Michael McEneaney has been a prolific complainant for at least a decade. “He’s bugged everyone on that block,” Hunter says. “He seemed to be an equal opportunity bully. But it could have been [racially motivated] in this case; I don’t know what motivated him.” Hunter adds that McLeggan always quickly resolved whatever violations McEneaney called in, so nothing ever came of the warnings.
Nonetheless, as McLeggan racked up violations, she thought of something she heard when she first moved in. A Black woman who lived nearby warned her of a history of problems between the McEneaneys and another Black single mother: the previous owner of McLeggan’s house. She’d urged McLeggan to be careful.
Buying property is not easy for Black Americans, let alone for Black single moms. Census data from 2020 shows that around 75% of white families own their home, versus 46% of Black families. This disparity has many sources. For one, there’s the staggering racial wealth gap, which can make down payments prohibitive. And even with a down payment, creditworthy Black homebuyers are denied mortgages at disproportionately high rates.
In addition, real estate agents often discriminate. During the period when McLeggan was house hunting, Newsday was investigating fair housing practices on Long Island. Black homebuyers, they found, faced discrimination in 49% of their encounters with real estate agents. Agents offered Black clients fewer listings, for instance, and they sometimes required mortgage preapproval of Black homebuyers but not equivalent white ones. All of this conspires to shut Black Americans out of homeownership, America’s bedrock system of building and passing down wealth.
Knowing this, McLeggan gritted her teeth and endured her exasperating neighbors. Renting in New York City was “basically throwing money in the garbage,” and now that she was a homeowner, she thought that the benefits far outweighed the annoyances. With every mortgage payment, she accrued equity in her home, an asset whose value would presumably rise. In a few decades, she hoped to give it to her daughter: the house that she was born in, which could help finance her dreams.
Then, sometime in 2018, McLeggan claims that John McEneaney tried to burn her house down.
One night, she was sitting up nursing her baby when she saw flames outside her window. The light vanished and then reignited several times. To McLeggan, it was unmistakably a blowtorch; its “luminescence” was just beyond her window at the side of her house. Believing that John McEneaney, Michael’s adult son, was trying to torch her home, McLeggan called the police. Allegedly, they told her that she and her neighbor needed to get along.
McLeggan has no proof of this incident, and McEneaney denies using a blowtorch. In the account he gave to Newsday, he “lit some carburetor cleaner on fire in his yard one night while bored.” McLeggan doesn’t believe him. (“If you don’t have a car with a carburetor,” she explains, “your engine is fuel-injected, right? So you wouldn’t need carburetor cleaner. It was a blowtorch.”)
After that night, McLeggan was “really shook up,” so she installed some motion-activated lights on the side of her house, hoping they would alert her if someone got too close.
For many years — even before McLeggan moved in — the McEneaneys enjoyed shooting guns. They’d sometimes set up targets on their fence, the couple’s former lawyer told CNN. According to a subsequent criminal complaint, neighbors would occasionally hear the pinging of metal hitting metal, and pockmarks appeared on the East Avenue sign at the corner. The trajectory from the McEneaneys’ house to that sign is about 70 yards, and it crosses right over McLeggan’s lawn.
To McLeggan, it looked like her neighbors were shooting a rifle, matte black with a long barrel. It turns out to have been a pellet gun, but the situation still scared her — her cousin, who sometimes mowed her lawn, would occasionally find pellets in her grass. Given that, she tried to keep her daughter inside.
“I went and told my husband, ‘Look, he’s shooting that thing again,’ just so if it actually hit me physically, they’ll know who did it.”
Other neighbors worried, too. The house just behind the street sign has pellet holes in the vinyl siding, rimming the big front window. That homeowner, who is white, said that while no pellets ever made it into her house, she could have been behind the window if they had.
And pellets used to sail across the Prices’ yard, too. Once when Syrrea was outside gardening, she remembers a pellet almost hitting her in the eye. “I went and told my husband, ‘Look, he’s shooting that thing again,’ just so if it actually hit me physically, they’ll know who did it.” Without a husband to bear witness, McLeggan would call the police.
“They write it off as an accident and then they don’t believe you,” she says of her repeated 911 calls. “That’s the scary part, I kept on telling the police that this guy is shooting and they’re kind of — ‘Did he shoot you? What’s the problem? If he didn’t shoot you, stop calling.’ So I kind of stopped calling the police at that time.” (Nassau County Police declined to comment about McLeggan’s allegations of negligence. According to charging documents, the police did notify John McEneaney on “several occasions” about McLeggan’s complaints.)
“Black people always die ‘by accident,’” she adds. “It’s always an accident.” What she means is that if her neighbor shot her, she thought he’d probably go free.
In the spring of 2019, after two years of tickets and shooting and poop, McLeggan put up a camera. It was just a small one, a Vivint camera that doubles as a doorbell, but within weeks, she had something. There it was, stark in surveillance black-and-white: Mindy Canarick throwing unbagged feces — apparently with her bare hands — onto the sidewalk in front of McLeggan’s lawn.
When McLeggan confronted Canarick’s partner, John McEneaney, he was dismissive. “She’s a few fries short of a hamburger,” McLeggan recalls him saying. “Mindy doesn’t know what she’s doing.” (Reached by phone, a former in-law of Canarick’s says that she is capable of understanding her actions.) So McLeggan took them to small claims court in July 2019. “If I went there with just my mouth, they never would have believed me,” she says. But with the evidence from her surveillance video, she won a $5,000 judgment.
“Oh, he’s messing with the new family now,” a neighbor recalls thinking.
From then on, she says, it was war. She and the McEneaneys would have loud, bitter arguments, sometimes involving the cops. According to McLeggan, the fights were mostly about the litter and poop she was still finding on her lawn.
“Oh, he’s messing with the new family now,” Syrrea Price recalls thinking as she heard the indistinct shouting outside. It didn’t surprise her. She remembers the McEneaneys having yelling fights with her husband, too, as well as with the previous owner of McLeggan’s house. “Constantly,” she says. “It was cop cars all the time.”
The Black mom who sold McLeggan her house told NBC News that her relationship with the McEneaneys soured in 2011, deteriorating as she found dead squirrels in her yard, nails in her tires, and broken sideview mirrors on her car. In McLeggan’s opinion, “they kind of ran her out.”
Meanwhile, McLeggan’s surveillance system was evolving. A camera on the side of her house caught John McEneaney flipping her off, a stranger spitting on her yard, and pellet guns flashing next door. In one video, John is walking down his driveway, away from a police cruiser parked by the curb. (McLeggan says the police were responding to a 911 call she made about the guns.) The audio is wind-garbled, but it sounds like he’s telling Mindy, “We don’t like Black people? Please. I said, ‘If I didn’t like you, I could have gotten you erased a long time ago.’”
Then, in October 2019, it got weirder. It’s nighttime in the surveillance tape, and rain appears to be blowing across the lens. A man with John McEneaney’s build paces up the family’s driveway, right along McLeggan’s fence line. For a moment, he stares directly into the camera that’s mounted on the eaves of her house.
Something dark covers most of his face, and pale skin peeks out around his mouth and eyes, exaggerating his features, making them clownlike. Blackface, McLeggan initially thought, but it’s actually a dark ski mask. Then, right in front of the camera, he reaches inside his jacket. To McLeggan, the movement looked like reaching for a gun — a menacing gesture meant for her to see when she checked her tapes the next morning.
In Newsday, John McEneaney denies intimidating McLeggan and claims that he sometimes wears a black ski mask to shovel snow, although the video’s timestamp is from an unseasonably warm October with no snowfall. His gesture is ambiguous and no gun ever appears, but the tape terrified McLeggan nonetheless. Leaving dog shit on her yard was one thing, but this seemed like an escalation. By this point, the stakes felt too high to give him the benefit of the doubt.
So McLeggan fled to Queens with her toddler, staying at her mom’s house for more than a month. From there, she began plotting a permanent exit. “It just wasn’t worth it for me anymore,” she explains. “I was working so hard paying the mortgage, but I wasn’t at home because I didn’t want to be there.” She’d heard good things about Georgia, so she began the process of registering her nursing license there.
But that paperwork takes months, and when the weather turned, she had to head back to Valley Stream. She was a homeowner, after all. “You have to make sure the water is OK and things are not blowing up.”
McLeggan trudged through that winter. In January, she fell uncommonly sick with a flu-like illness that she now believes was COVID-19. It swept through the nursing home where she worked, killing some patients and sickening staff. Then came the spring lockdown, then the summertime protests over police killings of Black people: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and others. The one that shook McLeggan the hardest was Breonna Taylor, a Black health care worker from Kentucky who was killed in her own home.
“If white men with guns can do in Breonna Taylor easy like that, how am I different? I’m not really different.”
McLeggan thought of Breonna Taylor when she found the first dead squirrel. In June, she went out to do some landscaping, and there it was on her lawn, stiff but intact, possibly drowned. The carcass chilled her — she didn’t like what it implied about her neighbors. As the summer progressed and she found more squirrels, McLeggan finally broke down. “I just felt, if you had to harm a living thing in order to hurt me, it’s just the last straw.”
On the July night that McLeggan penned her sign, she was frantic, the squirrels and the political moment stewing together. “I was just so desperate and I felt that something was gonna happen. That was my belief, like, if white men with guns can do in Breonna Taylor easy like that, how am I different? I’m not really different.” She posted the sign thinking that if anything happened to her, at least people would know to find her daughter inside the house.
The sign McLeggan made was enormous, a scroll the size of a refrigerator, taped inside her glass storm door. It was unmissable from the street, the color of waxed lemon leaping out among beige homes and green lawns. McLeggan’s handwriting was neat and even. Only one word stood out, written all in capital letters, making it known that she lives in “FEAR.”
As soon as the sign appeared, on the evening of July 11, McLeggan’s bell started ringing and didn’t stop. Neighbors came in droves bearing flowers, food, and empathy. Some of them posted pictures on social media, which immediately went viral.
“We had people coming from all over,” Syrrea Price remembers of the following morning. “The whole block was crowded, people standing at the corner trying to see who was it that was bothering her.” The next day it “magnified” — more gawkers and supporters arrived, plus the national media. To Price, “it was like living in a Lifetime movie.”
Some neighbors found the spectacle disgraceful — a petty dispute that got out of hand, fueled by clicks and sensationalist news reports. Others doubted McLeggan’s credibility. One area resident, who claims to have spoken with her personally, found McLeggan’s story so implausible and inconsistent that he took his concerns to the Nassau County Police Department. In an email to colleagues, the officer he spoke with wrote that the tipster was “looking to have a public statement made exposing her lies.” (No such public statement seems to have been made.)
But McLeggan mostly felt supported. One neighbor started a GoFundMe for a security system; it raised over $50,000. A local activist planned a rally that drew a crowd of over 2,000. Two attorneys reached out offering to help McLeggan — one of them is Benjamin Crump, who represents the family of George Floyd.
And then there was F.L.O.W. When the 30-year-old rapper scrolled onto a picture of McLeggan’s sign, he saw it as a “bat signal,” so he messaged her on Instagram to see how he could help. She asked him to pray for her, but that didn’t seem sufficient, so he was among the strangers who showed up at her door, not really knowing what he would do.
“I was so naive,” he says, laughing. “The hashtag was ‘Stand with Jennifer,’ and I took it literally. I said, ‘OK, well where are we standing?’” Starting on July 12, F.L.O.W. stood guard outside McLeggan’s house every night from about 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. His patrol lasted from July until early October, ending once McLeggan had moved to Georgia. “F.L.O.W.’s the bomb,” she says. “He stayed out there for 90 nights — 90.”
Once the sign went up, word of McLeggan’s situation quickly reached the Nassau County District Attorney, who opened an investigation. The authorities came and seized the McEneaneys’ pellet guns, then the county replaced the pellet-pocked East Avenue street sign across from McLeggan’s house.
But while the DA’s investigation unspooled in the background, McLeggan found the police unconcerned with the day-to-day work of keeping her safe. A July 15 press conference particularly irked her; in front of cameras, Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder characterized the situation as a garden-variety neighbor dispute, one in which each party — McLeggan and the McEneaneys — had complained “almost equally” about the other. (McLeggan calls this “a lie.”) “This is getting way out of control for what it is,” Ryder admonished, then he added, “not that our victim is not important.”
But unimportant is exactly how McLeggan felt. “The police tried to minimize it,” she said of her situation — and indeed, in the email about the tipster, the officer speculated that McLeggan was merely a scammer. “One needs to wonder,” the officer writes, “if that was her intention the entire time — to make money for repairs to put [her house] on the market.” In this context, F.L.O.W. felt like a lifeline. “He showed up because the cops wouldn’t show up,” McLeggan says. “And then you know what’s so funny? After he started sleeping out there, then the cops started to automatically want to, you know, check to see if I was OK.”
As a civilian protector, F.L.O.W.’s operation was ramshackle. “In the beginning,” he says, “I’m sitting on the hood of my car all night. I know people probably thought I was crazy. Who is this random guy sitting on top of a Honda Civic for 13 hours?” He didn’t have a solid plan; he had no training in fighting or de-escalation, and he wasn’t armed. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if something happens,” he remembers thinking. “But I’m going to make sure it just doesn’t.”
“It’s an open case, and it’s going viral. They would have to be stupid.”
At first, F.L.O.W. would go live on Instagram or Periscope for hours — sometimes eight or 10 at a time. This was partly to keep himself awake, but mostly for evidence; if anything went wrong, there would be a record. Even in the dead of night, he always had eyeballs on his feed, people from “all parts of the country, all parts of the world.”
Like the sign itself, the patrol attracted gawkers, critics, and supporters who dropped off pizzas and helped F.L.O.W. stand guard. After a few weeks, it gelled into a core crew of five or six who would all watch McLeggan’s house each night from lawn chairs in the front yard. F.L.O.W. would do his rounds, and then they’d all “just sit there and talk about our lives,” he recalls. “It was actually kind of emotional, because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’re in the middle of police brutality. And you just have a bunch of Black guys sitting there talking about pain or just laughing.”
It was emotional for McLeggan, too. For years, she thought that God had forgotten about her, but with F.L.O.W. and the others showing up every night, she realized that wasn’t true. They grew close; sometimes McLeggan would come outside and join the conversation, talking about Malcolm X or Wu Tang Clan or “just the most random conversations you could think of.” F.L.O.W. remembers it as having a “little family” for a while.
In the 90 nights he stood guard, F.L.O.W. never saw anything untoward from the McEneaneys. “I didn’t expect to,” he says. “They know we’re here. They know Jennifer has more cameras now. And it’s an open case, and it’s going viral. They would have to be stupid.”
About a month into F.L.O.W.’s patrol, on Aug. 17, the Nassau County District Attorney filed charges against John McEneaney and Mindy Canarick. “This conduct crossed the line between being a bad neighbor and into the realm of criminality,” DA Madeline Singas said in a taped statement. But her office did not find sufficient evidence to charge them with a hate crime.
Instead, Singas cobbled together some misdemeanor charges. McEneaney was charged with “criminal mischief” (for damaging the street sign) and “harassment” (alleging that he shot at the sign to bother McLeggan). Canarick was charged with “criminal tampering” for leaving poop on McLeggan’s lawn. These are not significant charges — they’re unlikely to face jail time. No charges have been filed against Michael McEneaney.
“This conduct crossed the line between being a bad neighbor and into the realm of criminality,” DA Madeline Singas said in a taped statement.
But even with her neighbors arrested and arraigned, McLeggan still didn’t feel safe at home. While F.L.O.W. worked his regular job during the day, groups of the McEneaneys’ friends and “supporters” gathered in their driveway, she recalls. “They would show up in the big trucks with the big Blue Lives Matter, which is fine — let people have their beliefs. But he just got really cocky when they came around.” Through her window, McLeggan could hear them talking about her, accusing her of lying. “I just felt like, ugh, I didn’t want to hear that, and I didn’t want the baby to hear that.”
So in September, she packed up her home and took her daughter to Georgia. They’re renting again, and her dream home — the Dutch colonial on the sprawling corner lot — stood empty for months, still strung with security cameras.
In leaving Valley Stream, McLeggan lost something irretrievable: her dreams for the future. “I did everything they tell you to do to get the American dream, right? Go to school, graduate, save up your money, buy a little piece of property, live your life, shut up, pay your taxes, mind your business, and you can’t even do that anymore.” Now, she says, she lives day to day. “I’ve stopped planning. I don’t plan anymore; I just kind of pray for the best.”
While McLeggan isn’t sure about her own future, she’s clear on the fate of her house. “People are like, ‘Oh, are you gonna sell the house?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not gonna sell anything.’ You have to hold onto these little properties, because you’ll never get one like it again, a corner lot on Long Island.”
For the time being, she’s found renters: five brothers whom she’s sure nobody will bother. But eventually she’d like the house to serve the community. “That would be a dream of mine — if someone wants to make it a safe house for women. Women who are going through something and they’ve got to run away, like how I ran away.”
“I did everything they tell you to do to get the American dream, right? Go to school, graduate, save up your money, buy a little piece of property, live your life, shut up, pay your taxes, mind your business, and you can’t even do that anymore.”
As for McEneaney and Canarick, McLeggan hopes they do time. She believes that if she, a Black person, shot pellet guns in her yard or threw poop on surveillance camera, she’d go to jail and lose her nursing license. But regardless of whether they serve time, she’s satisfied that her story has changed the neighborhood.
“He was the bully of the block,” McLeggan says of Michael McEneaney, “but not anymore. He used to sit out there and kind of watch the whole neighborhood, but he hasn’t been out since this whole thing happened.” Neighbors have told her that “his blinds are closed for good” and code enforcement hasn’t been around.
F.L.O.W., meanwhile, has been coordinating patrols for other Black women in distress who have reached out to him on social media. “My DMs are the most depressing place on earth,” he says. “But it really makes you want to help more people, women or just Black people in general.”
The Book of Habakkuk — which inspired McLeggan to make her sign — is about the difficulty of keeping faith when those around you are acting depraved. McLeggan has kept hers; she sees God’s work in everyone who rallied around her and protected her in Valley Stream.
But alas, there wasn’t a miracle. “All of these allegations have absolutely ruined me,” John McEneaney told CNN in July. Then, after his August arraignment, he spoke briefly with gathered reporters. “We’re the victims,” he said. “I am not a racist. I never was.”
Additional reporting by Greta Rainbow.
Photographer: Tory Rust