A suspected cross-burning hoax in Anoka is a distraction to legitimate racial issues in Minnesota, civil rights leaders say.
Patricia Cail looks out the front door of her Anoka house and feels nothing but shame.
She sees fresh sod covering the charred grass that was burned in the shape of a cross. She sees the handwritten sign made by her grandchildren, now lying face down on the lawn, saying "Thanks neighbors for all your caring support."
And she sees the homes of her neighbors in this suburban enclave who brought flowers and sympathy to this black family before police declared the cross-burning a hoax, perpetrated by Cail's brother-in-law, De'Andre June Sr., on his own lawn.
A week after June was charged with filing a false police report and two other misdemeanors related to the burning, the reportedly self-inflicted hate crime troubles his family, neighbors and those who advocate against racism.
"When I found out the truth about this, there were tears in my eyes," said Cail, who has moved into her sister's house while searching for her own apartment. "He brought embarrassment to the whole family. I knew the neighbors didn't do it."
Variety of consequences
The action fueled misconceptions that there are no real race problems in Minnesota, say civil rights activists. And it may make people enduring legitimate racial discrimination reluctant to report it.
"It makes it easier now for people who say that the work that we do ... is not necessary because people are just making up these stories," said Michael Jordan, director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department. "You have a lot of people out there who already feel there isn't a problem."
For black families that have been targets of cross-burnings, the incident was most disheartening. Last year, a four-foot-tall cross was ignited the night after Martin Luther King Jr. Day in front of Liberty Temple Outreach Ministries in St. Paul.
Setting fire to crosses -- a Ku Klux Klan tactic used to instill terror among blacks -- is an extremely powerful symbol, said the pastor, Thomas Mite.
"You feel like your life is in danger or your family is in danger," said Mite. "To play with that symbol is to lessen the seriousness of cross-burnings. I was disappointed anyone would do something like this."
Not the usual method
After June alerted police and the news media about the cross burned into his lawn, suspicion was aroused among some people because it was a departure from the usual method of torching a wooden cross.
"A burning cross, but on the grass?" said Cail, recalling her thoughts at the time. "And why?"
June, who has served time for felony convictions, declined to be interviewed for this story. But several inmates at the Anoka County jail who had been incarcerated with June last month told investigators that June said he was considering burning a cross to get sympathy and cash from the public and from churches. The inmates went to the authorities after they saw June talking about the incident on television.
The former inmates also said June had talked of other odd schemes, such as pouring water on himself to make it look as though he had had a heart attack and had urinated on himself, according to the court complaint.
Family had been welcomed
June, his wife and some other family members moved into the well-kept neighborhood with split-level houses on 10th Lane about six months ago, neighbors said.