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A couple of kids adorned the tree on my front lawn with toilet paper the other day. That’s a prank.

I talked to a guy whose roommate rubbed his toilet paper with habanera pepper. That’s a prank.

Pranks are supposed to be playful, even if they’re obnoxious. Think of them like “you might be a redneck” jokes, but, you know, funny.

Burning a cross is never a prank. Never. It might not meet the strictest legal definition of a hate crime, fine. You win that one, Arroyo Grande. Congratulations. I’ll bake you a big cake with words written in pink frosting that say, “Not technically racist … necessarily.”

I get it. When some bigoted a-hole does something like light a cross on fire in the front yard of a 19-year-old African American woman, public officials have to play the let-the-evidence-speak-for-itself card. You can’t run around screaming “the bigots are coming, the bigots are coming” before a court says, “Yeah, that was a hate crime.”

A prank, though. Really? I don’t get it. When does it get funny?

There’s also something called class, something called compassion. Trying to protect your town’s good image when a family has been scared out of their wits is not compassionate. Actually, it’s downright embarrassing. Those are the types of gaffs that make it appear you work for the city, not the people who live there.

It’s old news now—our letters section is dripping with the angry saliva of people who had the same reaction as I did. In case you missed it, Arroyo Grande police commander Chuck Gerhart told the Trib that no one should jump to conclusions about this cross burning.

“It could be a prank,” he says in the article. “There are a lot of things that it could be right at this point.”

Um, like what? Even if I could ignore the bombastically stupid fact that he said it might be a prank, what else could you call burning a cross? I really wish I had an example to throw out, but my brain doesn’t work at that level. Find me someone who can come up with a term to describe cross-burning that isn’t “hate crime” and I’ll eat my shoe. And it hasn’t been washed in some time—that’s how committed I am to my point.

I don’t care if, as a police commander, you’re squeamish to call it a “hate crime.” When cops find a dead body, they always have to say it might not be a murder and they’re still investigating. But you wouldn’t see them trying to keep the chamber of commerce happy by pondering, “Shucks, he might have fallen on the bullets.”

Mayor Tony Ferrara is taking a lot of the same heat. His gaff wasn’t as irritating, but he still stuck to the notion that saving face comes before condemning an act like this. At least, that’s the way the paper presented it.

“We don’t know for certain if that is what it is,” Ferrara told the Trib. “We are still investigating it.”

It might not meet the classical definition of a hate crime, but it certainly appears to be a crime that was inspired by hate.

You don’t have to come out defending the community. No one’s going to read about this and immediately think the entire town is racist. Well, the typical idiot online commenter will—not that all online commenters are idiots, just the ones who usually feel the need to post their comments online.

I can’t wait for the racist bigots who did this to get caught. And they will. Anyone dumb enough to burn a cross and leave a shovel on the lawn is going to get caught. Hell, they’re probably running around bragging to their friends right now, relishing all the attention this is getting. Maybe even making Facebook posts alluding to their escapades, assuming they’ve evolved enough to have opposable thumbs, and that’s a pretty damned big assumption.

But I’m sure when they get caught, we’ll be hearing them apologize and saying how they regret what they did—blah, blah, blah—and they understand now how hurtful their actions were—yada, yada, yada. It’ll be the Crops House debacle all over again. Those dinguses tried to pass off confederate flags and a noose as Halloween decorations. Sure, it was terrifying, but not in the way it was supposed to be.

What I really don’t get—and what really makes these cross-burners five-star nitwits in my head—is why they stole the cross from a church. I hate to get into the head of a scared little racist “prankster,” but you’re going for the symbolism here, right? In my mind, it would be easier to just hammer two boards together—it would only take two nails. You can knock out all your supplies with a trip to any hardware store, one-stop KKK supply shop or not.

Instead, tweedle-dee, dumb, and however many other tweedles were involved lugged a hundred-something pound cross—I’m told it’s only a crucifix if someone is nailed to it—across town just to light it on fire.

Idiots.

But hey, what a funny prank. Maybe. Sorta. I’ll get back to you on that. I have to consult my dictionary—and my PR agent. In the meantime, I’m off to give those habanera peppers a go. 

Send your favorite actual pranks to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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