The sanctuary of an 111-year-old black church in Greenville, Mississippi, was set on fire early Wednesday morning and authorities are treating the incident as a hate crime. The message “vote Trump” was scrawled on the exterior wall of the building.
So far, there are no suspects in the case. Apparently, police are proceeding under the assumption that a Trump supporter (or supporters) set the blaze and that the perpetrator is white.
Investigators continue to collect evidence, and there are no suspects yet, Greenville Police Chief Delando Wilson said at the news conference. Later, Wilson told CNN that police brought in a person of interest Wednesday afternoon and “are interviewing this person to determine if they had any participation in this event or if we can clear them.”
The west Mississippi city of about 33,000 near the Arkansas border is 78% black, according to the most recent census. Surrounding Washington County is 71% black.
Mayor Errick Simmons said he spoke to some of the church’s 200 congregants who were fearful and felt intimidated. They felt the vandalism was not just an attack on the church, but on the black community, he said.
“It happened in the ’50s, it happened in the ’60s, but we’re in 2016 and that should not happen,” he said.
Greenville faced another race-based attack in September when someone painted the n-word on the city’s boat ramp, Simmons said. He ordered city workers to paint over the pejorative, he said.
Because it’s an African-American church, the FBI is working “with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed,” said a statement from the FBI’s office in Jackson, the state capital.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting the Mississippi State Fire Marshal’s office, ATF special agent Joseph Frank said.
ATF agents weren’t able to enter the structure until midmorning Wednesday because it was still too hot, Frank said.
A GoFundMe account set up to help the church rebuild had garnered more than 500 donations by early Wednesday afternoon, far surpassing its goal of $10,000.
Why do authorities always jump the gun and rush to judgment when it comes to hate crimes? Given the number of hate-crime hoaxes over the last few years, you would think police and politicians would be more circumspect and wait for evidence of a hate crime before announcing it to the world.
The problem is, if authorities were to follow logic and their common sense and wait for all the evidence to be evaluated and a suspect to be caught, they would be accused of deliberately dragging their feet and tagged as racists too.
It is telling that the simple message “vote Trump” is considered evidence of a hate crime. In the minds of many liberals, all Donald Trump supporters are racists. Obviously, this isn’t true, but the term “racist” has been weaponized to serve as a political club, rather than a word used solely to shame haters.
But there is no doubt that an uncomfortably large percentage of Trump supporters are indeed racists and perfectly capable of burning down a black church given the right motivation. So, the argument that we should be having is: does Trump inspire hatred with his rhetoric?
Trump is routinely called a racist, but the word has been so overused the last eight years that it has lost its impact to do damage politically. Trump is guilty of overgeneralizing racial types — even stereotyping people by race. This is common among people his age and a little younger who grew up stereotyping everyone. Irish were drunks, Italians dug ditches, Poles were stupid, Mexicans were lazy, and blacks were criminals. Stereotyping people by race and ethnicity is ignorance, not hate.
Trump has embraced a form of nationalism that appeals to racists and bigots because of its not-so-subtle message that white people have gotten the short end of the stick in recent years, minorities are getting an unfair advantage, and that society has been “rigged” against working class white people by the “establishment.” This is music to the ears of the Kluxers, the Birchers, and, of course the alt-right who have tried to gussy up their hate as a campaign against “political correctness.”
Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric doesn’t inspire hate and violence but it may enable it. By giving voice to the frustrations and fears of the white working class, the veneer of tolerance and comity is ripped away and people revert to a tribal mindset that empowers some people to lash out at their perceived “enemies.”
Trump, like Obama before him, has become a symbol on which many factions are able to project their hopes and aspirations. That some of those factions are Klansmen and white supremacists — and that Trump only tepidly disavows them — is one of the biggest dangers in electing this man president.