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Durham Leaders Gather To Discuss Cross Burnings

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DURHAM, N.C. — Leaders in Durham gathered Sunday night to plan an event in response to the three crosses that were burned last week. But what was supposed to be a forum, turned into a heated discussion.

"We have to be intelligent enough to make decisions that will keep the community calm," Reverend G.I. Allison said.

But to many who were present, Durham's cross burnings were symptomatic of a problem that they believe already existed.

"We have to have a conversation about how race is destroying the city," said Carl Kenney, a writer from Durham.

Recent events, he said, have brought racial issues front and center.

Brian Azar, who's a member of the Durham human relations commission, added: "I've gotten as much racism as a white person from blacks, as you've gotten. Some of you blacks, from whites. And some of you as Hispanics, from both blacks and whites."

People from all across Durham were in attendance, including the city manager and members of the Durham school board.

Jackie Wagstaff, a member on the Durham school board, said the cross burnings "send a message out about black people."

"That's what black people are feeling," she said. "That when that cross was burned that was a message to myself and anybody else that looks like me."

A gang youth minister was there to say the cross burnings were not related to gangs.

"These kids want something to do but they're not gonna burn no crosses," Marvin Jones said. "Matter of fact, they're not gonna spend money to buy the wood."

Reverend Charles Smith, an NAACP leader in Durham, said the meeting was not what he expected.

"It's a mixed up meeting -- talking about this and that," Smith said.

Reverend Smith was hoping to hear more about the status of the case. And, he hoped there would be more discussion about the planning for a "Reconciliation Rally" the community plans to hold next weekend.

They got to the planning about two hours after airing frustrations.

The "Reconciliation Rally" is scheduled for next Sunday at 4:30 p.m. The location will be announced later.

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