The Macon County Sheriff's Department is investigating a burning cross that was lit on the side of a highway in Alabama Thursday night. Sheriff Andre Brunson told WSPA that several motorists traveling on Interstate 85 called in reporting the cross around 9:30 p.m. local time. The fire was eventually extinguished, which revealed a makeshift cross that had been lit aflame after being placed on top of a bridge. Brunson added that there were currently no suspects.
One of the motorists, John Bolton, also told the outlet that he and his two friends were headed into Montgomery when they "saw it as soon as it was set on fire." After pulling over, he said that "it looked like a shadow began to run away as we were approaching," as they were the first on the scene. "I called 911 as one of the guys climbed up to the bridge to knock the cross down. The first officer arrived a few minutes later. The officer, the two young men, and I all climbed up to the bridge to put out the fire at that time." Bolton added that after the fires were extinguished, he and the responding officers "could see that there were three total — a cross, a burning tire, and a fuel canister."
The act of cross burning dates back to the 12th century but was co-opted by the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century as a means to intimidate anyone non-white, particularly black Americans. The state of Virginia had passed a law outlawing cross burning, though it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003. The case, Virginia vs. Black, ruled that the act would only be considered illegal if intent to intimidate could be proven in court.
The incident comes as a number of protests have been held in cities across the U.S., as well as the rest of the world, which have ignited in response to ongoing police brutality. The catalyst was the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was arrested on May 25 after allegedly trying to use a $20 counterfeit bill. Four officers responded, and one, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes, killing him in the process.
After the first protests started on May 28, Chauvin was arrested on third-degree murder and manslaughter charges the following day. On Wednesday, the charges were upgraded to second-degree murder, while the remaining three officers were taken into custody on charges of aiding and abetting.