CommunityHamil R. Harris

MPD Releases Photos of Church Fires During Pro-Trump Rally, Investigating Incidents as Hate Crimes

Mayor, Civil Rights Groups Condemn Vandals, Call for Justice

Metropolitan Police are investigating vandalism directed at four downtown D.C. churches — two of them Black churches steeped in history — in the wake of weekend violence linked to pro-Trump demonstrations that left four people stabbed and 32 people arrested.

“D.C.’s faith-based organizations are at the very heart of our community, giving us hope in the face of darkness. An attack on them is an attack on all of us. This weekend, we saw forces of hate seeking to use destruction and intimidation to tear us apart. We will not let that happen, and continue to stand together strong and United to Love,” Bowser said in a tweet.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham released photos and details of the incident Monday and said that at approximately 6 p.m. Saturday, the suspects ignited a banner in the 900 block of 11th Street NW which is home to the Asbury United Methodist Church.

The police also said that one suspect was arrested and charged with assault with a knife at 9 p.m. in the 500 block of 11th Street Saturday following an incident in which one man stabbed four people in a clash between opposing groups following the pro-Trump rally.

In addition to anti-BLM protests at Asbury United Methodist Church and the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, similar action occurred at nearby Luther Place Memorial and Mount Vernon Place United Methodist churches.

On Saturday, various pro-Trump groups including the extremist right-wing Proud Boys rallied and marched in Freedom Plaza charging that the 2020 election had been stolen. The gathering was encouraged by President Trump who flew over in presidential helicopter Saturday afternoon.

By nightfall protesters destroyed the Black Lives Matter signs in front of four District churches and that produced a response from church leaders, city leaders and Civil Rights groups.

Rev. Ianther Mills, pastor of the historic Asbury United Methodist Church-the oldest African American church in the District-told the Washington Informer, “They tore down our sign and burned it in the streets but we will put a bigger sign to fight for justice and create the beloved community.”

In a church statement, Mills reminded the community that her church, established in 1836, is no stranger to racism, “We are a resilient people who have trusted in God through slavery and the Underground Railroad, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, and now as we face an apparent rise in white supremacy.”.

Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan AME, was reached but his only comment came via Twitter. “We have not been distracted by signs, sounds, or fury for nearly two centuries. We worship. We liberate. We serve.”

Named after Methodist evangelist Bishop Francis Asbury, the church has been home to abolitionist activists, advocates of the Underground Railroad, freed slaves and civil rights activists who took part in the 1963 March on Washington.

On Sunday a steady stream of visitors, including many whites, brought signs of support to the steps of the church.

“It’s critical that we all be together,” said a woman who is member of All Souls Unitarian Church in D.C. The woman hand lettered a sign that said, “You are not alone.” Attached to it was the drawing of a heart that said, “Black Lives Matter.”

The intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Saturday has been a crossroads of protest fueled by President Trump since the Nov. 3 elections. On Saturday he was in Marine One when it flew above supporters at Freedom Plaza who verbally clashed with members of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Today the Electoral College is scheduled to officially declare Joe Biden the official winner of the 2020 Presidential Election and regardless of the reaction Mills along with other down pastors and merchants hope that calm, tourists and peaceful protests will return to the downtown corridors of the nation’s capital.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, “In no uncertain terms, we condemn the Proud Boys and other white supremacists who targeted historically Black churches in D.C. with acts of violence.

“Their Klan-like actions harken back to the days of Jim Crow and their destruction of Black Lives Matter signs are nothing more than modern-day cross-burnings intended to intimidate and terrorize the Black community,” Clarke added. “These historically Black churches are important institutions in D.C. that have a long history of standing against oppression and providing a safe haven for communities of color.”

Clarke has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately open a federal civil rights investigation under the Church Arson Prevention Act to hold accountable those responsible.

In the wake of the incident, Mills said in a statement. “We call upon all to join us in prayer for our community, church, and the people who are responsible for this hateful behavior. We believe this is a wake-up call for all to be more vigilant and committed to anti-racism and building a beloved community, and we invite you to join us.”

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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