Virginia police and federal authorities are investigating after a burning cross was placed in the yard of a teenager hours after he organized and marched in his small town's first Black Lives Matter protest.
In a statement, the Marion Police Department said that officers were called to investigate an "intense fire" outside a local home at approximately 12:43 a.m. on Sunday. After extinguishing the fire, police said, they observed wood "that appeared to be in the shape of a cross" leaning against a burnt barrel.
The house where the fire was set is the home of Travon Brown, 17, one of the organizers of a protest against racial injustice and police brutality that was held in Marion on Saturday. He lives with his mother, Briggette Thomas, and his 16-year old sister.
"The Town of Marion Police Department is absolutely committed to ensuring that people of color in our community are safe," Chief of Police John Clair said Monday. "Our department, along with Smyth County Sheriff's Office and federal authorities, will conduct and full and thorough investigation."
Burning crosses have been used for more than 100 years to intimidate Black people.
Cross-burning is a class 6 felony in Virginia. It carries a penalty of up to five years in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.
In an interview with WJHL News Channel 11 on Monday, Brown said that he believes that the cross was lit in his yard as a scare tactic.
"It didn't work," he said. "It only made me stronger."
Brown said that he hoped that the act could spark discussions about systemic racism in the Marion community.
"While the interactions between the two protest groups were mostly peaceful, a counter-protester was detained, however the protester declined to press charges," police said. "One arrest was made that resulted in a public intoxication charge."
Brown told BuzzFeed News Tuesday that he had never attended a protest until his first march in Johnson City on June 1. "I wanted to experience something new for a change and came back a new person. These protests really open your eyes to everything that's happening," he said.
"I don’t want the generation behind us to have to deal with what the generation before us went through and still are going through," he said. "I just want change."