Individuals reportedly affiliated with the hate group the Proud Boys tore down Black Lives Matter signs at two historic Black churches and burned one of them when they descended upon D.C. over the weekend to support President Donald Trump. The actions have been widely condemned by lawmakers and the community writ large. But the president, who professes to be a “champion for religious freedom,” has yet to publicly say anything.
A pair of widely shared videos posted on Twitter shows a crowd of mostly maskless White men wearing black and yellow attire—the Proud Boys’ common uniform—carrying a Black Lives Matter banner into the streets and setting it on fire as they cheer. The banner shows a logo of Asbury United Methodist Church, one of D.C.’s oldest Black churches. In one of the tweets, a Daily Caller reporter identifies the crowd as members of the Proud Boys. Another church whose worshipers included Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, had their Black Lives Matter poster torn down. A third church, Luther Place Memorial, shared on Instagram that their Black Lives Matter sign was stolen over the weekend too. At a Monday press conference, outgoing Police Chief Peter Newsham says four churches in D.C. had destruction of property.
“It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames. For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings,” says the church’s senior pastor, Rev. Ianther M. Mills, in a statement.
The Metropolitan Police Department is investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, a spokesperson tells City Paper. Anyone with information is being asked to call (202) 727-9099 or text 50411. MPD made 33 arrests related to the demonstrations over the weekend; 14 individuals reside outside of the DMV region. Many were charged with a simple assault or an assault on a police officer. Four people were stabbed during clashes between Trump supporters and counterprotesters, while eight officers were injured.
Mayor Muriel Bowser was among the many to respond to what transpired over the weekend. “DC’s faith-based organizations are at the very heart of our community, giving us hope in the face of darkness,” says Bowser in a statement. “An attack on them is an attack on all of us.”
Attorney General Karl Racine echoed that sentiment: “This isn’t just about defamation of property by one group of people. It’s about an assault on our common humanity.”
Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen says the burning of the Black Lives Matter banner is undoubtedly a hate crime and should be pursued as such, while incoming Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George pointed out that officers did not use force against the Proud Boys as they had on Black Lives Matter protesters in past demonstrations. (The Council has noted the police’s unequal treatment of pro-Trump protesters and racial justice protesters before.)
In a press conference streamed on Facebook Live, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter denounced MPD, along with the mayor, for failing to stop the Proud Boys and other White supremacists from terrorizing the city. “As we witnessed for many months now during this uprising, and for years in our own communities, MPD does not cannot will not keep us safe,” said Anthony Lorenzo Green, Black Lives Matter DC core organizer and ANC commissioner for Deanwood. “D.C. police does not keep us safe. Muriel Bowser does not keep us safe.”
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This post was updated to include that Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church was another church whose Black Lives Matter sign was torn down.
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