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Yeah, I Set the Fire, But She Was Rude

By Matt Wood in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 27, 2006 3:02PM

chicagoist_2006_07_bookburning.jpgBook burning, gay bashing, kicking a homeless woman out of a library for freeloading public resources? It sounds like the Holy Trinity of turn-ons in one of Rush Limbaugh's wet dreams, minus maybe a pharmacist handing out endless prescriptions to Oxycontin. But it turns out a fire at the John M. Merlo branch of the Chicago Public Library on 644 W. Belmont back in June was a little more pedestrian.

Erica Graham, a 21-year-old homeless woman, was charged with criminal mutilation of library materials and attempted aggravated arson for setting fire to books on the library's second floor. At her bond hearing, she said she was angry with the librarian because she was rude about not letting her sleep there, and because she wouldn't let her and her boyfriend use a computer at the same time. The fire burned books in the gay and lesbian and African-American section on the second floor, leading some to speculate that it was a hate crime, but Graham says she didn't know what books she was burning. She torched the second floor because it was out of the way.

So maybe she didn't carry out the fantasy of many an anti-intellectual, racist homophobe, but Graham appears intent on offending someone, this time judges and taxpayers. Despite admitting to setting the fire, she pleaded not guilty yesterday to both charges.