James Brown, a 41-year-old white man from Marion, Va., is heading to federal prison after burning a cross on a Black family’s front lawn last summer. He was sentenced to 18 months on Friday.
On June 12, 2020, the police were called to the home when witnesses saw a fire coming from a barrel in the front yard. Brown lived across the street from the family. Newsweek reports that the FBI took the case, looking to set a precedent for egregious hate crimes.
“When interviewed by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Victim #1 broke into tears while describing the incident,” FBI Special Agent Chad Potter said in a court affidavit. “I know from my training and experience that cross burnings have historically been used to specifically target and intimidate African Americans.”
“Agents observed that the wood was connected by a screw to make a cross shape,” Potter continued. “Attached to the wood was a woven cloth attached by staples. The wood and cloth had a sweet smell, which is indicative of a propellant being used.”
The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia said in a statement, according to NBC News, that it had charged Brown with lying to federal agents and “criminal interference with fair housing based upon the victim’s race.”
Brown pleaded guilty to the latter in April. He admitted at his guilty plea hearing that he meant to intimidate and threaten the family. According to WJHL News, a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office revealed he was known to call the Black family racial epithets.
WJHL also reported that one of the family members is allegedly a part of the New Panthers, a group in Virginia advocating for justice for Black people. The group had organized a civil rights demonstration in response to George Floyd’s death the day before the cross burning.
In a statement reported by Newsweek, Special Agent in Charge Stanley M. Meador said, “Investigating allegations of civil rights violations continues to be a top priority for the FBI; and through our community liaison and law enforcement partnerships, we will continue to investigate and mitigate the unwanted and unwarranted behavior of racially motivated individuals.” The agent says that the FBI has zero tolerance for people violating anyone’s civil rights.
Following Brown’s sentencing, Agent Meador urged anyone who has been a victim of a hate crime to come forward for justice.