It was inevitable that the pervasive demonstrations all across the country supporting the Black Lives Matter cause after the police execution of George Floyd would evince a reactionary backlash, but now that reports are starting to emerge of protestors being targeted for exercising their rights to free speech, it’s even uglier than we imagined.
While protestors in large urban areas can maintain a certain amount of anonymity due to the larger crowds in cities and the masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that they are hopefully wearing, in less populated locales the identities of the organizers of BLM protests are easier to discover.
Travon Brown, a 17-year-old demonstration organizer in Marion — a small town of about 6,000 people in western Virginia — learned that lesson the hard way early yesterday when a flaming KKK cross was discovered burning in his yard.
According to the Bristol Herald-Courier, Marion Police Chief John Clair began a joint investigation of the incident with the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office at around 1 a.m. after the Brown family reported the cross blazing in a barrel outside their home. Clair reported that witnesses also reported hearing a loud bang that sounded like a firework before discovering the symbol of racist intimidation.
The hateful arson was discovered earlier in the evening by Brown’s mother, Bridgette Thomas, who told the Herald-Courier that she discovered the firey symbol when she walked home from a store.
“When I came up the street, it looked like my house was on fire,” she exclaimed. “It was so scary, my daughter was in there.”
It was only when she got closer to her home that she discovered that someone had placed two large wooden sticks nailed together perpendicularly into a barrel on the property and set them ablaze.
“It was scary though and then to find out it was a cross. It made me feel some type of way because it was so close to my house. My house could have caught on fire,” Thomas said.
Police officers extinguished the flames when they arrived and are now investigating the incident in conjunction with federal authorities due to the hate crime aspects of the arson.
According to the Bristol Herald-Courier:
“Virginia law prohibits the burning of a cross as a form of intimidation in public spaces or on another person’s property. According to the law, doing so is assumed to have been done with the intent to intimidate.”
“Violation of the law is a class 6 felony, which carries a penalty of up to five years incarceration and up to a $2,500 fine.”
Marion Police Chief John Clair expressed his intent to investigate the hate crime and find the perpetrator.
“The Town of Marion Police Department is absolutely committed to ensuring that people of color in our community are safe,” Clair said in a statement. “Our department, along with the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office and federal authorities, will conduct a full and thorough investigation.”
Clair is requesting that anyone with more information on the cross-burning contact the Marion Police Department at 276-783-8145.
Whoever tried to intimidate Travon Brown may or may not be caught, but let it be known that these tired tactics of fear-mongering won’t stop a movement that has already convinced a majority of Americans that our police and justice systems must be completely reformed to eliminate systemic racism.
Those who try to drag us back to the bad old days may as well take their burning crosses and pointy white hoods and place them all in a bonfire on their own front lawns because the movement is now too big for them to stifle with fear.
Original reporting by Jasmine Dent Franks at The Bristol Herald-Courier.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.