Cross Burning Outside Black Family's Home is No Joke, Say Faith Leaders

Religious leaders in a Southern California county are sounding off against the recent burning of an 11-foot cross in a city that hasn't had a hate crime reported since 2002.

In a letter published Wednesday in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, members of the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association made clear that the burning crosses, etching of swastikas on synagogue walls, and writing of hateful words on mosque doors are acts that should not be tolerated.

"[They] are not pranks," stated the letter's 35 signers, representing a number of different faith groups, including Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, and Buddhists, among others.

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"They are hate crimes meant to frighten and intimidate. They should have no place in this beautiful county, but they do sometimes happen here. When they do, they cannot be tolerated or laughed off as 'just a joke,'" the religious leaders added.

The letter was published just days after authorities in Arroyo Grande, Calif., responded to a report of fire outside the residence of a black teenager. According to the city's police department, the object found burning early Saturday morning was later identified as a cross that had been stolen from the grounds of Saint John's Lutheran Church in Arroyo Grande sometime between Feb. 5 and March 5. The members of the church were not aware of the theft for about one month.

"The Arroyo Grande Police Department is pursuing the investigation of the incident on South Elm Street as an arson and a hate crime," the department reported Monday.

"At the same time, the Department is pursuing an investigation of the theft of the cross from Saint John's Lutheran Church due to the recovery of the stolen cross at the site of the arson and hate crime. Both incidents are being objectively investigated with the Department open to all possible motives for both crimes," the police stated.

A $1,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects involved in the arson and hate crime. The City of Arroyo Grande is further offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects involved in either the theft of the cross or the arson and hate crime.

"The Arroyo Grande Police Department is strongly encouraging anyone with information regarding either the theft of the cross or the arson and hate crime to come forward and help solve these crimes that have impacted not only the victim but the entire community," the department stated.

As of Monday, no suspects or groups were yet identified as being responsible for either the theft of the cross or the arson and hate crime. Since Saturday, the Arroyo Grande Police Department has been providing extra patrol in the area of the victims' residence. Police declined to release the names of the family because the incident was considered a hate crime.

The last hate crime reported in the predominantly White city took place back in 2002. According to reports, FBI agents and investigators from the county and the state Department of Justice have joined in the current investigation.

"We, the members of the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association, ask everyone to join us in working to increase understanding and kindness among all our fellow humans," religious leaders stated Wednesday. "San Luis Obispo County cannot really be the happiest place in America until and unless all people can feel safe and secure in their homes and in their lives."

Located about half-way between San Jose and Los Angeles, Arroyo Grande is home to about 17,238 people, according to the 2009 Census estimate. The city is regarded by some as the "Gem" of the Central Coast of California.

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