September 04, 2018
After years of frustration and fear, a silver lining rolled right up to the Margolis family home in Schwenksville, Montgomery County.
Last week, the mixed-race family shared with PhillyVoice their tale of ongoing harassment at the hands of a neighbor who allegedly bombarded them with racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs, along with actions that toed a fine line between legal and illegal.
The suburban nightmare – a six-year saga that now has them awaiting a court hearing later this month – left them contacting police on a semi-regular basis, reaching out to local officials and their homeowner’s association for help that’s yet to come, and contemplating a move away from their bucolic development.
“He's followed us out of the subdivision on our respective ways to work in the mornings. He's parked his car in the middle of the street blocking our way,” she said, summarizing the issue. “He has spat at us. He left piles of dog poop on our driveway, twice. He flips us the bird anytime he passes us.
"He walks down the driveway with his big intimidating dog and yells at my husband. He's said, 'We don't want you living here anymore.' When you see him, you just know something is going to happen.”
What a difference seven days can make.
Since PhillyVoice reported on the long nightmare, Pam Margolis said her family has received an outpouring of support that they can barely fathom.
She’s heard from a Perkiomen Township supervisor who said “numerous elected Democrat officials want to help me.”
The story itself has been shared far and wide on social media resulting, in part, in a fragrant response.
“Strangers have shown up to the house to bring us flowers. (My husband) Howard actually used the word ‘angelic’ to describe these women,” Pam said Monday. “Additionally, the community of Fox Heath (their residential development) has rallied around me. Many neighbors have stopped by to offer their support.”
Add to that chorus of vocal and floral support, the sounds of motorcycles – cruising along Martingale Road, near both the homes of Margolis and their alleged harasser, Matthew Rutkowski.
"He was peeking out and when I looked right at him, he went right back inside." – C.J. Santangelo, concerned biker
A group of motorcycle riders (and others) billed as “passionate people making a difference,” the A Team has long held bike runs and organized events to help those in need in and around that section of Montgomery County.
This particular story struck a chord with Santangelo because his daughter was close friends with Margolis’ daughter, Angelica, in high school, a place where she stood out as one of very few minority students.
When he saw the PhillyVoice story, “the hair stood up on the back of my neck,” said Santangelo, noting that his daughter called Angelica after seeing it. He was worried about the family because of their passive nature, one that he thinks was getting exploited by their neighbor.
“That made me realize this guy is a bully. He wouldn’t be doing this if they were a family of motorcycle riders, lifting weights in the driveway,” he said. “Bullies pick on people when they know they can get away with it.”
Santangelo’s father owned a trash-hauling company, so he was exposed to a diverse group of some 60 employees – from “all races, colors and creeds” – at an early age.
Many of them were bikers but Santangelo never wanted to go the bike-club route, which is how the A Team – and its mission to “show the positive side of the biking community” – came to be.
He rattles off a long list of causes they’ve helped through the years – from the Eagles Fly for Leukemia to local victims of domestic violence to children facing life-threatening medical problems.
In this case, Santangelo and a handful of members of the A Team have already made their presence known in Fox Heath, heading over in a throating rumble to the Margolis home in a show of support.
The support will continue next weekend with a substantially bigger turnout. About 1,000 members who have the Margolis family's back will send a strong message to the bully across the street.
“We’re going to make some noise so he knows that they’re protected, a peaceful shutdown of the street, and I’ll ride Pam through the neighborhood on the back of my bike,” Santangelo said. “We’ll have mixed-race people on cycles to show that this sort of thing doesn’t happen without a response in this day and age. There are a lot of people who want to stand up for (the Margolis family).”
Santangelo said Rutkowski has already heard their message.
“One day when we went there, we got his attention. He was peeking out and when I looked right at him, he went right back inside. It was non-confrontational,” he said. “Once his parents catch wind of what he’s done, they’d be foolish not to get him out of there.”
Pam Margolis couldn’t be more appreciative of what the A Team has done.
“This past weekend, a small contingent of the A Team showed up to offer their support and to let me know that they are watching out for me,” she said. “Many of them have driven by the house at various times during the weekend. You can hear the growl of the motorcycles and it's comforting to know they have their eyes on us.”
While the support has been “completely overwhelming,” there’s still some outlying issues beyond the Margolises' upcoming hearing. Rutkowski is charged with three counts of harassment and disorderly conduct for allegedly yelling racial slurs at Pam and her husband.
“I am still frustrated that no one with the legal power to act has contacted me,” she said. “I have yet to hear from the HOA personally.”