Someone Burned a Cross Outside the Home of a Teenage Black Activist

"It has made me want to go harder for my community," 17-year-old Travon Brown said.
June 19, 2020, 1:30pm
Artur Gabdrahmanov / Sputnik via AP​

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The FBI and local police in Marion, Virginia are investigating an alleged cross burning at the house of a teenage activist who’s been organizing anti-racist protests in the area.

Last Saturday, 17-year-old Travon Brown helped the group local group New Panthers organize a march in Marion, a town of fewer than 6,000 in southwestern Virginia. Brown had been inspired to start organizing, he told CNN, after attending nearly a week full of protests in Johnson City, Tennessee, a little over an hour away.

Photos from the Marion event show at least a few dozen attendees.

The following day, however, Brown’s mother came home from the store to find a cross made from “two large sticks,” according to the Smythe County News & Messenger. “When I came up the street, it looked like my house was on fire,” Bridgette Thomas told the News & Messenger. “It was so scary, my daughter was in there.”

Brown was not home at the time and received a text from his mother asking him if he was safe. "My mother said she walked to the store and not even 15 minutes of her coming back someone had pulled up and burnt a cross," Brown told CNN.

Given that the Ku Klux Klan historically used them to intimidate Black organizers and activists, Virginia law specifically prohibits cross-burning in public spaces or another person’s property with “the intent to intimidate.” It is a felony with a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

While cross-burnings are sometimes seen as a vestige of the Klan’s tactics during the Jim Crow era, a cross was burned in Alabama near historically black university Tuskeegee University earlier this month, in an apparent white supremacist attack. A spraypainted racial slur was also reportedly found at the scene.

The local police chief in Marion said that the town would investigate with the help of the FBI and the county sheriff’s office.

“The Town of Marion Police Department is absolutely committed to ensuring that people of color in our community are safe,” Marion police chief John Clair said in a statement provided to CNN. “Our department, along with the Smyth County Sheriff's Office and federal authorities, will conduct a full and thorough investigation.”

The FBI declined to comment to CNN, citing an open investigation. But either way, Brown told CNN he won’t stop speaking out against injustice.

"The person that put this cross in my yard has made me stronger!" he said. "It has made me want to go harder for my community."

Cover: People protest against police brutality following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, next to the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia. Artur Gabdrahmanov / Sputnik via AP