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Black Woman Finds Burned Cross in Her Yard

Racism: Authorities are treating the incident as a possible hate crime, but have few leads. 'It scared me,' victim says.


LANCASTER — In what sheriff's deputies are calling a possible hate crime, an African American woman preparing to take her children to school found a charred miniature cross in her frontyard Tuesday morning.

Yolanda Blanchard, 37, found the cross, made of two finger-thick wooden rods joined by a nail, leaning against a tree in her frontyard, the bark around it scorched by fire.

"I looked out the window to see if the trash man had come and I saw the can was knocked down," Blanchard said. "I came out and started picking up the trash and I saw the cross.

"It scared me."

Deputy Chris Keeling, a Lancaster sheriff's station spokesman, said investigators have few leads.

Blanchard and her nine children moved to their home in the 44200 block of Heaton Avenue three years ago from South-Central Los Angeles. The tree-lined street is in a blue-collar neighborhood populated by blacks, whites and Latinos.

Nitaa Hampton, a neighbor and friend of Blanchard's, expressed anger at whomever burned the cross.

"It's disgusting," she said. "This is a nice neighborhood. This is a nice, neutral neighborhood."

Pat Feller, a white woman who has lived for 40 years in the house two doors away, visited Blanchard for the first time to lend her support.

"I think it's just horrible," said Feller, a longtime resident of the street. "She is a fine woman. She's working so hard with those children, it makes me sad that someone would do that."

Blanchard said she was heartened by her neighbors' support, but the incident still makes her feel uncomfortable.

"Just seeing that cross just changed me," she said. "I don't want people threatening my kids."

Although neighbors said skinheads formerly hung out at two houses on the street a few years ago, Blanchard said she had never been a target of overt racism.

Keeling said a flammable liquid was used to ignite the cross.

The cross burning comes after a July incident in which white supremacists put pamphlets with racist messages into mailboxes in Glendale, La Canada Flintridge, Agoura Hills, Valencia, Santa Clarita, Encino and Newhall. That same month, two San Fernando Valley synagogues were vandalized.

Despite those recent events--and the fact that Los Angeles County leads the nation in the number of hate crimes--such incidents declined 17.6% last year, according to a report issued last spring by the county's Commission on Human Relations.

On Tuesday, however, that was little comfort to Blanchard.

"I've got a lot of nice, good neighbors that care about me," she said. "But I'm just afraid to be around here now.

"I don't know what's going to happen next."

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