A burning cross results in smoke and fury

By Katie Wolf

I wanted to cover this story journalistically: report the facts and appropriately distance myself from opinion. But there’s too much passion here. It started on August 13, 2009, when the Green family found a smoldering cross on the lawn of their Clarkston home. I was of course furious.

I remembered that my great grandmother used to tell me about the night her family had found a flaming cross on their lawn (this was the 1920s and her parents were Danish immigrants).

Then, last month, three Clarkston teens were arrested for the August burning, with ethnic intimidation and conspiracy as the charges. I graduated high school with all three.

Ex-girlfriends of the accused testified that on the night of the crime, one had said, “Let’s teach the n*****s a lesson.” Hours later, the burning cross was found.

I didn’t know these guys intimately, but we shared classes in the past, had lunches together, and roamed the same halls.

They rode their BMXs to school. They’d hang out by the bike racks, circling them like wheelie-popping vultures. Harmless kids, really.

My girlfriend joked she probably finger-painted with one of the accused when they were both in kindergarten.

I’d like to note that back in high school and even today, there always seemed to be an obsession with Confederate flags in Clarkston.

The Southern Cross is everywhere — on everything from belt buckles and bumper stickers, to license plate covers and T-shirts.

Other than their Lynyrd Skynyrd fandom, the kids sporting these insignia often claim an expression and preservation of a Southern heritage.

Please. Who are they kidding? These are the same kids who fell asleep during U.S. History. I’d bet money they couldn’t even name two Civil War generals. But I digress.

Why was that cross burned? Why did it happen in my hometown, and why did it happen in 2009, decades after the Civil Rights Act and more than a century after the end of Reconstruction?

Like most others, our state doesn’t have the greatest track record for civil rights. Although not as shameful as some of our Southern neighbors, it’s a reputation that nonetheless haunts our heritage.

The Ku Klux Klan was prolific in Michigan throughout the 1920s (a giant cross was burned one night in Holland, Mich. during the early part of the decade) and Klan groups are supposedly still active throughout the state.

Also, the former Super Wizard or Grand Dragon or whatever dopey name they give their leader was a Michigan native. Yuck.

Earlier this month, a KKK-style hood was found on the campus of the University of California San Diego.  A month before at UC Davis, a swastika was found carved in a Jewish student’s door.  Students around the state gathered to condemn the incidents.

And in 2004, two states away in Kentucky, a group of teens were arrested and charged with burning a cross on the lawn of a black family. Eerily familiar.  Disturbingly close.

We have to remember there has been progress. Hate crime laws and civil rights have come a long way in just fifty years, considering there’s a sinister history of law enforcement and legislators turning a blind eye to cross burnings and lynchings. Today is different.

There is an overwhelming amount of support for the Green family coming from the Clarkston community.  They want to make sure these acts of bigotry are condemned and the guilty parties are brought to justice.  For this, I’m proud of my neighbors.

H. Wallace Parker, chief counsel for the NAACP owns a home in Clarkston.  After the incident he said, “There is something morally and logically wrong with this act.”

As we find out what happens to these boys, we can remember: hate like this does not run in our blood. None of us are born wanting to burn crosses or put on white hoods.  Let logic and love prevail.

As of yet, the accused mentioned are innocent until proven guilty.  They have pled not guilty.