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Fire was retribution, East Side activist says

Fire investigators are looking into a "suspicious" fire Saturday that an East Side activist claims is retribution for his anti-gang activities.

Darnell Jackson said the fire at 28 Barthel St., a vacant house he owns and was trying to remodel, followed a verbal altercation he had with neighborhood drug dealers the afternoon before.

"We need to stop these arsons," said the former gang member turned activist. "People in the community need to start coming forward."

Investigators confirmed the cause of the fire, which started about 1 a.m., is believed to be arson. "It's definitely suspicious," said Fire Marshal Joseph Tomizzi. "We're trying to get to the bottom of it."

Jackson, who lives across the street, described the incident as a "fire bombing" intended as a message for him to back off.

He said the fire started just hours after he confronted several drug dealers standing on a nearby corner. Jackson said the house, damaged from a previous accidental fire, now needs to be torn down.

"The thugs shouldn't win," said Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk. "If the facts bear him out, this is unconscionable."

Franczyk said he will stand with Jackson at a news conference today as a way of sending a message to neighborhood drug dealers that Jackson and others will not back down.

"This guy is trying to clean up the neighborhood," Franczyk said of Jackson. "We need to help him."

Jackson, 51, the married father of four adult children, has been active on the East Side since the 1990s and helped found the Community Control Board, a group that helped reduce violence in the area around Barthel.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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