The Government’s Response to Church Burnings Must Have “Real Teeth,” Say Clergy

Jul 11, 2015

Posted in Equal Rights/EquityPolice-Public Safety

By Ashley Chambers

The discussion of entrenched of racism in America is intensifying in the wake of the recent killing of nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina by a young white supremacist, followed by fires at eight predominantly Black churches in the South.

Though most the church fires have not yet been confirmed as arson, at least three fires have been found to be intentional. These incidents bring to memory the rampant church burnings during the Civil Rights Movement that targeted Black families and congregations in the South as a form of intimidation.

There has been a national outcry on social media and in the faith community denouncing these acts of arson and white supremacy that are hovering over the country.

As part of the national outcry, Bay Area clergy are calling for the federal government to exercise its authority to halt the assaults on Black churches.

“Our country needs to respond with a lot more empathy and swiftness to make sure that our Black institutions can be protected,” said Pastor Michael McBride of The Way Christian Center in Berkeley.

The government response must be forthcoming with a sense of urgency, he said.

“There’s never a moment where people even think that Black folks are being afforded due process,” he said. “When we are experiencing terror, we are always being asked to wait for more information, rather than just acknowledging that what’s happening is terrorizing our communities. But the system rarely waits for more information when it’s our time to go on trial.”

In an effort to combat a rise in attacks on Black churches, the federal government established the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996. The act reads, “Whoever intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any religious real property because of the race, color, or ethnic characteristics of any individual associated with that religious property, or attempts to do so, shall be punished.”

Pastor Michael McBride

However, federal officials have not identified the recent arsons as hate crimes. Since 2009, the FBI has recorded one racially motivated church burning, Fusion reports.

“There have been other acts of hatred that we’ve seen across the years with delayed action, if any, from the federal government,” said Pastor Harold Mayberry of First AME Church in Oakland.

Pastor Harold Mayberry of First AME Church in Oakland.

Mayberry says he wants the federal government to sit down with people of color to have real discussion around racism in America. Also, any legislation against church burning must have real teeth, he said, “not just a law passed to pacify [those affected] people, but prosecutes to the fullest extent of the law those who participate in those acts of hatred.”

Clergy around the country this week are calling for a “Week of Righteous Resistance (WORR),” July 12 through July 18, with national religious partners, PICO, as well as members of the AME Church.

“We have to help amplify the need for a courageous, faith-based call to end white supremacy and racial terror,” said McBride.

For more information, search hashtag #thisisWORR or visit information.