Burning Desire

Representative Leah Landrum-Taylor just says "No" to cross burning

Landrum-Taylor: (Long pause.) In this particular instance, I think there was a level of insensitivity. I really do. That's why he apologized, I think. Can I raise racial concerns with him? I don't know. But when you look at the bill, it only has to do with nationality and religious practice. It's about discrimination. In the beginning, his level of sensitivity must have been low. But toward the end I think he understood a little better.

NT: Perhaps the senator didn't realize that flag burning is a protected form of free speech.

Landrum-Taylor: I explained that to him, but he kept on moving forward. And there were a lot of people advising him that that's not the way to go, including the Senate staff. But he was just hell-bent on it, and I was floored.

Burn, baby, burn: Leah Landrum-Taylor knows the difference between apples and oranges.
Emily Piraino
Burn, baby, burn: Leah Landrum-Taylor knows the difference between apples and oranges.

NT: And so you ended up accepting additional wording that imposes punishment on those who burn "any symbol."

Landrum-Taylor: Toward the end there was a compromise, because otherwise we would not have gotten the bill through. We made a compromise because they began saying, "Well, what if other things are burned, what if someone goes out and burns a piece of toast, or the Star of David?" or whatever. I told them, "You'd have to prove that the intent was to threaten or intimidate."

NT: But as it stands now, I could be grilling hamburgers in my yard, and if you're a person for whom cows are sacred . . .

Landrum-Taylor: Or if you went and grilled hamburgers in my yard! If you knew that cows were sacred to me and you started flipping burgers in my front yard -- first of all, you're trespassing. Secondly, you're doing something to intimidate. But it could be that I just moved to the neighborhood and this is how you welcome people to the neighborhood. Which is why I want to look into repealing that broad language in the next session. We've done that before -- we've put bills forward and then cleaned them up later.

NT: In the meantime, it's a crime to burn a cross on someone else's property or on public property, but not on my own property. What if I live across the street from you and a set a giant crucifix ablaze every night in my front yard? Won't you still be offended or threatened or intimidated?

Landrum-Taylor: But I'd have to prove intent to intimidate. Like if you're the only Jewish family on the block, and every night everyone else on the block is burning crosses, you'd still have to prove that it was aimed at you. Right now, we're addressing the issue in increments, in steps. We couldn't say "on all property," we had to say "on personal property." Because, are you kidding? You think if I'd have opened it up to everybody's property, all this would've happened?

E-mail robrt.pela@newtimes.com

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