Possible hate crime jolts area

Remnants of burned sticks in a cross shape found on College Park street

Thursday, May 18, 2006

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Barbara Salisbury⁄The Gazette
Someone lit a cross-shaped fire in the middle of the street on 52nd Avenue in College Park late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

North College Park residents are wondering what next to expect following a cross-burning incident that police are now investigating.

Smeared ash in the shape of a cross lay in the middle of 52nd Avenue in College Park Monday afternoon, and Jocelyn Johnson still couldn’t believe someone committed the brazen act on the quaint street.

Johnson said she awoke Sunday morning to find the smoldering remains of a possible hate crime committed in the predawn hours of Sunday, according to Prince George’s County police reports. Johnson, who lives with her aunt and uncle in the house, said there might have been a reason the cross of branches had been arranged directly in front of their home.

‘‘I couldn’t tell you why something like this happens, but the coincidence is that we’re the only African-American family on the street,” said Johnson, who has lived in the 9600 block of 52nd Avenue since 2000. ‘‘It’s a little worrisome ... because you never know what they’ll do next.”

County police spokeswoman Debbie Carlson said police are investigating the incident.

‘‘It could be a hate crime or it could be a prank,” she said.

Johnson said the cross burning – even if it was a prank – could make for a trend of hate crimes in the North College Park area. In July 2003, a three-and-a-half-foot cross was set on fire outside the Dar-Es-Salaam mosque and Al-Huda School on Edgewood Road. Two juveniles were charged in connection with the incident later that summer.

Rick and Linda Milbourne, who live less than 100 yards from the cross burning, said they are disturbed that someone would commit an act synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan, but they don’t fear for their safety.

‘‘It’s a little scary, but it doesn’t worry me at all,” said Linda Milbourne, one of several nearby residents who said a car was lit on fire on 52nd Avenue earlier this year.

Rick Milbourne said he was shocked to see police and TV news trucks bombard the quiet street early Sunday morning.

‘‘It’s something you don’t really expect,” he said.

As Rodolfo Sabino inspected the black remains of the burned wood Monday morning, he wondered what his family should expect next.

‘‘I’m keeping my eyes open because of this sort of thing,” said Sabino, who has lived on 52nd Avenue for almost 15 years. As Sabino identified the race or nationality of every house on the 9600 block of 52nd Avenue, rattling off a list of countries and skin colors, he stopped at Johnson’s house, reminding himself that they are the only African-American family on the small block. The careful branch arrangement, he said, was probably no accident.

‘‘I was really surprised to see something like this in the street. ... I guess I just have to be prepared to defend myself if they come back to this area.”

E-mail Dennis Carter at dcarter@gazette.net.