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July 22, 2006

Family finds ‘KKK’ scorched into lawn

A day after a northern Vigo County couple found the letters “KKK” burned into their front yard, the FBI joined the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department in the investigation.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not a prank,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Gossett, classifying the probe as one into a hate crime, based on race.

Gossett, along with an FBI agent, spent part of Friday afternoon interviewing Emanuel and Amelia Smith.

The Smiths reported Thursday morning to a sheriff’s deputy that someone had singed their well-manicured lawn, scorching 6-foot initials for the Ku Klux Klan into the grass.

A tire on their son’s Dodge Neon also was flattened outside the Smiths’ home on North 38th Street, just south of Marquette Avenue.

“This is 2006. You just don’t think of this type of thing happening,” said Amelia Smith, who works as a bank branch manager. “People still have hatred toward African-Americans.”

Heidi Beirich, a spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., said Friday that these type of incidents happen more than people realize.

The FBI documented 7,649 reported hate-crime incidents nationwide in 2004, the latest statistics available. More than half — 4,042 — were motivated by racial basis, said Drew Northern, a supervisory special agent for the FBI in Indianapolis.

The law center where Beirich works tracks hate crimes and hate groups, including the KKK. The Klan is considered the oldest of American hate groups, with an estimated 6,000 members nationwide, including an organized chapter in Center Point in Clay County, according to the law center’s Web site.

In most cases it’s not hate groups, but individuals, who are responsible for painting offensive graffiti on walls and homes, Beirich said.

She estimated that fewer than 10 percent of hate crimes are carried out by organized groups.

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