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Published May 29, 2012, 05:22 PM

8-foot Burning Cross Left in Yard Creates 'Clear and Terrifying Message'

NEAR BEMIDJI – An 8-foot-tall burning cross was found last week by a Northern Township woman who believes her family was targeted because of their race.

By: Bethany Wesley, Bemidji Pioneer

NEAR BEMIDJI – An 8-foot-tall burning cross was found last week by a Northern Township woman who believes her family was targeted because of their race.

“This is racism,” the woman said Tuesday.

The woman, who asked not to be identified to protect her family’s identity, said she was in her home early Friday morning when she seemed to see the sky catch fire.

“The sky was all lit up,” she recalled. “It was yellow.”

She looked outside and found the burning cross propped up against a tree. There also was a 3-foot-long line of fire on the ground, leading up to the cross itself.

The woman, who was home alone, ran outside to douse the flames with water and then ran back inside to call police. The report was made at 12:40 a.m. Friday.

On Tuesday, the woman told the Pioneer that the flames extended five feet into the air when she first noticed them from inside her home. By the time she got outside and grabbed a nearby garden hose, the flames were about three feet high.

“I was scared to death,” she said.

The woman is white. Her two adult children are mixed-race with a black father.

“Somebody has this much hatred to be lighting a cross?” she said.

The woman saw someone running from the scene. She also heard a vehicle pulling away.

The incident remains under investigation, according to Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp. He urged anyone with information to call the sheriff’s office at 333-9111.

The cross, he said, contained racist writings.

“It creates a real clear and terrifying message,” said Audrey Thayer, the coordinator of the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project (ACLU-MN). “It’s appalling. It should appall anybody.”

The Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project has been in Bemidji for eight years, she said, working to educate people about the importance of respectful treatment of one another despite cultural differences.

“We need to take a look at how we treat people for what they believe,” she said.

The family, coincidentally, was planning to move even before the burning cross was found. The woman said she now is looking forward to leaving her current lot for a home with nearby neighbors.

“I never thought something like this would happen,” she said.

Thayer, who was contacted by the family shortly after the burning cross was found, said the incident shows why the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project continues to operate in the region.

“We have to talk about these things,” she said. “it’s about being sensitive and respectful for every human being … this is unacceptable.”

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