Jerry Davich: Burning cross a form of terrorist attack, too
Jerry Davich email@example.com September 12, 2012 11:28PM
Brian White poses with a charred cross that was left last week at his family's Portage home. White said he | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 14, 2012 12:34PM
Tesonya and Brian White awoke on a recent Sunday morning to a shocking symbol of hate, bigotry and racism.
In the front yard of their Portage home was a 3-foot-high, makeshift wooden cross, charred from being lit on fire a few hours earlier. A bottle of an accelerant cocktail was tossed next to it.
“It’s apparent RACISM is alive and well in Northwest Indiana,” Tesonya wrote on her Facebook page that morning, accompanied by a photo of the cross.
The couple contacted the police, who are investigating the incident but so far have no leads. Officially, it’s being classified as harassment — not a hate crime — until more information can be found, according to Portage Police Capt. Joe Reynolds.
But it’s certainly a hate crime to Tesonya and Brian White, and their two children, who’ve lived in Portage for seven years without any problems from anyone. Especially their neighbors.
“Our neighbors are the kind who bring us cookies on Christmas, not something like this,” Tesonya told me. “We have no idea where this came from.”
Tesonya, 37, and Brian, 40, are both graduates of Lew Wallace High School in Gary. They have two children, a son who’s a Portage High School freshman and a daughter who’s in eighth grade.
“Both of my children are honor students, and both are very active in playing sports,” said Tesonya, who is director of college transitions at West Gary Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy. “Our life revolves around work, school, church and sports.”
Reynolds said he can’t remember something like this happening in Portage, and neither can I, not in the 30 years I’ve lived in the city. Sure, it’s obvious that the city’s demographics are changing but I’m not aware of such bigotry pounded into a lawn and lit on fire in the middle of the night.
Is this an isolated case of youthful ignorance and teenage vandalism? Or something much larger at work, with hate-filled intentions and historic ramifications?
I’ll bet that most white residents (and readers) will downplay this incident as the former explanation, not the latter. I’ll also bet that most black residents (and readers) agree that there’s no way this incident should be downplayed to any level. Period.
Hate groups on the rise
Last year in Bass River, N.J., Nicholas Comis, 23, and Daniel Enders, 22, were sentenced to 270 days and 180 days in prison, respectively, for burning a cross near a black family’s home, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The famous center monitors hate groups and other extremists throughout the country and exposes their activities to law enforcement agencies, the media and the public.
“Currently, there are 1,018 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. And their numbers are growing,” the center’s website states.
Since 2000, the number of hate groups has increased by 69 percent, the center states.
“This surge has been fueled by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy, an influx of non-white immigrants, and the diminishing white majority, as symbolized by the election of the nation’s first African-American president.”
Regardless if this Portage incident reflects hate and bigotry or youthful ignorance, it certainly has sent a black and white message to the Whites, who kept the charred cross. Such acts of racial “harassment” burn with a sinful legacy of fear, hatred and intimidation that goes back decades, if not centuries.
“Yes, I’m black and proud! We’re not leaving, nor scurred! You’ve chosen the right Gary girl to mess with,” Tesonya wrote angrily to her Facebook friends that morning. “God is about to avenge us and I’m helping this time!”
Dozens of comments posted on her wall supported her anger and protectiveness of her family, as well as her belief that God is watching over them.
“This is not the Portage I know,” Tesonya told me.
This is not the Portage I know either, I told her. But it is the United States I know, even in the year 2012.
With the now-infamous date of Sept. 11 in our minds, and its lingering aftermath of fear, all of us are reminded of the terrorist attacks that slapped awake our country 11 years ago. Still, we shouldn’t be lulled to sleep by apathy and complacency from the much more common act of burning a cross on the lawn of a black family.
It, too, is a terrorist attack in any neighborhood in this country, including now Portage, sad to say.
For more insights on this issue, listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show this Friday at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.