Letter to the Editor: Clarkston – where things like that don’t happen

Dear Editor,

A white man in his 20s joins a violent organization. He commits a crime, is arrested, and makes national headlines. The Clarkston resident is cast as an “outsider,” and “lone wolf,” a man who does not represent our sweet and gentle town.
If Maxwell Wyckoff, a member of the Wolverine Watchmen, is the first name on your lips, you’re only partially correct.
The year is 1971 and Alex Distal Jr., a 28-year-old Clarkston resident, is viciously angry about school busing that would integrate neighborhoods in Pontiac. He and four other fellow ex-Klansman bombed 10 school buses in the middle of the night; one of the fellow bombers was a former KKK Grand Dragon in Michigan. They planned other attacks in Pontiac before they were detained and charged by police.
It would be easy to see these as individual circumstances, spanning fifty years apart. Only two such incidents in 50 years? That’s hardly anything! We are quick to separate ourselves, label them evil, and rid our minds of it. That is our privilege in a mostly white town, the ability to move on and forget.
Do you think our black neighbors forget as easily? Maybe they still remember the 6-foot cross that burned on a black family’s lawn in 2009. National headlines captured a white Clarkston High School student in 2020 who proudly displayed a racial slur and whip in an online video. A few months later, a Clarkston woman and her husband threatened a black woman and her child with a gun.
The comment section of any online post referencing these incidents screams “This is not who we are!” Open condemnation from many who claim such things are rare. But the facts speak differently. Clarkston Schools recently opened a 24-hour hotline for students to report “derogatory, racially motivated speech.” Why? “… because we are seeing racist behaviors and slurs happening on our school campuses with troubling frequency.”
Black families will quietly tell others which places here in Clarkston to avoid, who is safe and who isn’t. They do not speak publicly about the real underbelly of a community where “things like that don’t happen.” There was that family with the burned cross on their lawn, after all, and members of the KKK/Wolverine Watchmen living right down the street.
Racism is a very real, very dangerous threat here in Clarkston. We have a responsibility as residents to make this community safe for everyone. We’ve done a really crappy job so far, with no real plan to make a change. Right now, this is who we are, and until we admit that things like that happen here, this is who we will remain.

Katie Smith

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