‘Vote Trump’ painted on burned black church

The FBI has opened a civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the local mayor calls the act “a hate crime.”

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

The FBI has opened a civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a fire that heav­ily dam­aged a black church in Mis­sis­sippi where some­one wrote “Vote Trump” in sil­ver spray paint.

The Tues­day night fire heav­ily dam­aged the 200-mem­ber Hopewell Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church in Greenville, Miss., where Mayor Errick Sim­mons on Wed­nes­day called it a “heinous, hate­ful, cow­ardly act.”

“We con­sider it a hate crime ... be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal mes­sage which we be­lieve was in­tended to in­ter­fere with wor­ship and in­tim­i­date vot­ers,” Sim­mons said. “This act is a di­rect as­sault on peo­ple’s right to freely wor­ship.”

The mayor said the FBI and the Mis­sis­sippi Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion were as­sist­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the Mis­sis­sippi River city, where about 78 per­cent of the 32,100 res­i­dents are African Amer­i­can.

“The FBI Jack­son Divi­sion is aware of the sit­u­a­tion in Greenville, and we are work­ing with our local, state and fed­eral law-en­force­ment part­ners to de­ter­mine if any civil rights crimes were com­mit­ted,” state FBI spokesman Brett Carr said in an email.

He did not com­ment on whether it was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated as a pos­si­ble hate crime. “At this point, it is too early in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to de­ter­mine what type of crime this could be,” he said.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a Repub­li­can who has been cam­paign­ing for his party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump, said “we ex­pect a sus­pect will be iden­ti­fied and brought to jus­tice.”

“First, any­one who burns a place of wor­ship will an­swer to almighty God for this crime against peo­ple of faith. But they should also an­swer to man’s law,” Bryant’s state­ment said.

U.S. Rep. Ben­nie Thopm­son, a Demo­crat whose dis­trict in­cludes Greenville, said the fire and graf­fiti “harkens back to a much darker day in Mis­sis­sippi.”

“The po­lit­i­cal mes­sage of the van­dal­ism is ob­vi­ously an at­tempt to sway public opin­ion re­gard­ing the up­com­ing elec­tion,” he wrote in an emailed state­ment. “I en­cour­age all ci­ti­zens not to be de­terred by this cow­ardly act and ex­er­cise your right to vote at the bal­lot box.”

Fire Chief Ruben Brown said wa­ter from the hoses and heat from the fire also dam­aged the church’s kitchen and the pas­tor’s study. It was put out within 12 min­utes, but it took an hour and a half to ex­tin­guish hot spots, he said.

Ar­son in­ves­ti­ga­tors also were at the scene Wed­nes­day col­lect­ing ev­i­dence. Brown said the cause re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We don’t have any sus­pect at time, but we are pos­si­bly talk­ing to a per­son of in­ter­est,” Po­lice Chief De­lando Wil­son said.

The mayor said “we will not rest un­til the cul­prit is found and fully pros­e­cuted.”

The con­gre­ga­tion has ex­isted for 111 years, and will re­build on the same site, said pas­tor Caro­line Hud­son.

“The act that has hap­pened has left our hearts bro­ken but we are strong to­gether,” Hud­son said. “We are not an­gry, but our hearts are bro­ken.”

Bishop Clarence Green called the fire trou­bling. He said that in his 21 years as bishop, the church had never been van­dal­ized.

Asked where the church mem­bers will meet this Sun­day, Green said: “We’ll have to work on that.”

ROGELIO V. SOLIS — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

‘Vote Trump’ is spray-painted on the side of the fire-dam­aged Hopewell M.B. Bap­tist Church in Greenville, Miss., on Wed­nes­day.

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