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This sh*t shouldn't happen here: crosses burned in Durham

A police officer and firefighters arrive at the scene of a cross burning Wednesday night on South Roxboro Street, about a quarter mile from Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Mayor Bill Bell can’t recall a cross burning since he moved here in 1968. (Cross photo: The Herald-Sun/Bernard Thomas)

[UPDATE: Welcome to folks from Daily Kos, Raw Story, RawQ, The Daou Report and Shakespeare’s Sister. I wish that you found the Blend under more positive circumstances, but it’s good to have attention turned to the latest manifestation of the Bush Era of Tolerance.]

[UPDATE (Friday, 8:33 AM): Durham vigils — and speculation about motive for cross burnings]

Three crosses were burned last night in my progressive hometown, one only a couple of miles away from our house, near a middle-class, suburban subdivision. Some are tying it to the visit of members of the Rotting Cryptkeeper‘s church visit to our city to protest the Laramie Project play held at the Durham School of the Arts. The pathetic Phelps family picketed and were overwhelmingly outnumbered by supporters of the play and its performers.

[See my coverage of that event, Westboro Baptist Church protesters comes to Durham.]

It’s hard to understand what kind of cretins think that they are going to find support for this rat-bastard, cowardly deed — hey you f*ckers, show your faces — but they won’t find it in Durham. (Durham Herald-Sun):

Three large crosses were burned in separate incidents across Durham Wednesday night, the first time in recent memory that one of the South’s most notorious symbols of racial hatred has been seen in the city.

Yellow fliers with Ku Klux Klan sayings were found at one of the cross burnings.

The Durham Police Department is investigating the burnings. After the third one was reported, the department ordered that any suspicious cargo truck or large pickup truck be stopped.

“At this day and time, I thought we’d be beyond that,” said Mayor Bill Bell. “People do things for different reasons, and I don’t have the slightest idea why anyone would do this.” Bell, who said he couldn’t recall a cross burning in Durham since he arrived here in 1968, said he hadn’t received any calls, letters or e-mails that would “remotely” suggest someone would target the city with cross burnings.

The first burning was reported at 9:19 p.m. outside St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Hillandale Road at Interstate 85. [Note: this church is gay-welcoming; I have no doubt that’s the reason this one was targeted.]

As police and firefighters were finishing their work there, a second cross burning was reported at 9:54 p.m. along South Roxboro Street, about a quarter-mile south of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Someone had positioned the cross atop a large pile of dirt near an apartment complex construction site to the west of South Roxboro Street.

“This is ridiculous,” Durham police Sgt. A.M. Batte said as she stood over the smoldering cross around 10:20 p.m.

WTVD-TV pic of the Holloway St. cross. See the video report on it here. Right: St. Luke’s, where the first cross was found. (News14Carolina). News 14’s video coverage is here.

Then the third burning was reported at 10:28 p.m. at Peachtree Place and Holloway Street downtown.

The crosses were about 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide, police said. They were wrapped in burlap and doused in a liquid that smelled like kerosene. The crosses were made of four 2-by-4s. They were screwed flat together with grooves cut at the intersections of the beams. Batte said it would not have been difficult to place the cross atop the mound because streetlights in the area were out and large construction equipment shielded the view of passing traffic on South Roxboro Street.


Burning a cross without the permission of the property owner is a misdemeanor in North Carolina. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that, under the First Amendment, cross burning could be barred only when done with the intent to intimidate.

I cannot think of any reason that any insider or anyone outside would be angry with us,” said Bill Gutknecht, senior warden at St. Luke’s. “I don’t know what kind of point they’re trying to make. … I certainly hope and pray it had nothing to do directly with our church.”

Gutknecht noted that on May 9, members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., picketed outside St. Luke’s, among other churches, as part of a protest against the performance of “The Laramie Project” at Durham School of the Arts. The play is about the murder of a gay man, and the Westboro protesters carried anti-gay signs with slogans including “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11.”

That’s the only thing of any kind of conflict, and it wasn’t really a conflict,” Gutknecht said, explaining that church members ignored the protesters.

Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 919-683-1200. CrimeStoppers pays cash rewards for information leading to arrests in felony cases and callers never have to identify themselves.

Mayor Bell (a former neighbor of mine) has been a strong supporter of progressive efforts and has attended and spoken at our huge annual State Pride events held in the city.

From my coverage of the Westboro Baptist Church’s visit to Durham:

* Triumphant production of The Laramie Project in Durham
* Photos from day two of the Phelps Hate Machine in Durham
* Local media coverage of Phelps clan’s visit to Durham
* First shots from the Westboro Baptist Church protest in Durham, NC
* Off to see The Rotting CryptkeeperTM Fred Phelps
* My dream come true — Fred Phelps is coming to Durham!
* Daily Kos diary: Westboro Baptist Church protest in Durham, NC


I wonder if NC’s Republican Senators are going to make a public statement about this?

Elizabeth Dole
555 Dirksen Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Ph: 202.224.6342
Fax: 202.224.1100
Webform is here

Raleigh Office:
310 New Bern Avenue
Suite 122
Raleigh, NC 27601
Ph: 919.856.4630
Fax: 919.856.4053


Richard Burr
Washington, DC Office
217 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-3154
Fax: (202) 228-2981
Webform is here

And what will our Governor, Dem. Mike Easley, have to say?


[UPDATE (2PM): Information on vigils.]

The Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham is calling for vigils at all three locations tonight, Thursday May 26, and believe strongly that a large community response to the cross burnings is important. The NC Peace & Justice Coalition encourages everyone in the area to join in a loud community response to these acts of violence, hatred, racism and intimidation.


DOWNTOWN VIGIL: 6:00 community dinner and discussion on the cross burnings and the communty’s response, 7:30 pm Vigil: Meet for both at the Durham Main Library parking lot, at 300 N Rosboro, between Holloway and Liberty streets. The dinner will take place within walking distance of the library. The vigil will likely take place near the site of the cross burning, 2 blocks away at the United House of Prayer on Dillard and Holloway. If you can help bring a dish, banners, or candles please Contact Andrew Pearson, 360 2028.

WEST DURHAM VIGIL: 8:00 pm At or near ST. Luke’s Episcopal Church, (919) 286-2273, 1737 Hillandale Rd, Durham 27705, near I-85. The Church pastor and neighborhood and community groups are involved in the planning. Contact: John Schelp,, Old West Durham Neighborhood Association,

SOUTH DURHAM VIGIL: 8:00 pm on the sidewalk on South Roxboro Street, near Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., in front of the site of the cross burning. The plan at present is to have everyone gather on the sidewalk at the site of the burning on South Roxboro Street tonight at 8 pm and bring a candle “to shine some light in this moment of darkness.” Churches and civic organizations are being contacted and fliers are being printed up. Contact Terry and Ann Lee Mosley,, 489-8592.


(Cross-posted at Big Brass Blog.)

See follow-up post, Durham vigils — and speculation about motive for cross burnings.

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