“My reaction was it wasn’t really surprising,” Pastor Karl Jefferson told Fox 4 News. “It was like these are times that we’re in.”
For 27 years, the church has sat in the heart of Blue Springs, and Jefferson said no one has ever bothered the faith community until this past Sunday. “A member of mine happened to be up early and taking her mother to her church and happened to drive by and saw the painting on the church,” he said.
Someone painted the word on the back of the church building with a cross and circle under it. Jefferson said the racial slur didn’t ruin Sunday worship and was repainted by the time church started, but the racist act is an eye-opener to the community.
“I think sometimes things happen at a distance and we can kind of sweep it under a rug, but when it happens close to home in our neighborhood and community is when people start paying attention to it to the most,” he said.
Blue Springs Police said they are actively investigating who the suspect or suspects may be, and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office is pre-emptively considering this a hate crime.
Despite the vandalism, Jefferson said the community’s response has been overwhelmingly positive. “The response has been whatever we need,” he said. “People have been willing to come out and help and do whatever they can to take care of the facility.”
The church doesn’t have security cameras installed, but Jefferson said it’s something they’re looking into. This makes it harder for police to find the suspect or suspects, so they are asking for the community to speak up if someone knows anything.
The incident comes after a string of similar acts in recent years were later determined to have been hoaxes, and in some cases, committed by church members.
In one incident that made national headlines in 2016, members of a historic Mississippi church found racial slurs and “Vote Trump” spray-painted on the building that was also set ablaze. The NAACP and media outlets immediately blamed it on Trump supporters and for days, news of the investigation filled headlines. Church members were terrified.
Church member Andrew McClinton, of Leland, MS was eventually convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
McClinton, who is Black, admitted to the fire which destroyed the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville. He pleaded guilty to setting the fire but on the advice of civil rights activists, refused to admit he painted the words at the same time. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for arson, along with a 10-year suspended sentence with some of the suspended sentence under state supervision.
In another incident related to the 2016 election, an Indiana church organist spraypainted “Heil, Trump,” on his church.
Prosecutors say what was reported to be a hate crime at the time was, instead, the act of someone hoping to mobilize others disappointed with the election of Donald Trump.
Another Kansas City-area arson fire at a Black church and cultural center was also later attributed to an employee attempting to cover up a burlary.
The long string of attacks on churches that were wrongly attributed as hate crimes has led many in law enforcement and media watchdogs to question the wisdom of releasing information and placing blame before investigations are completed.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice