Police in the District of Columbia are investigating after two historic Black churches were targeted by far-right demonstrators who allegedly tore down a sign and a banner both with the slogan Black Lives Matter, and briefly set fire to the banner in the street.
“DC’s faith-based organizations are at the very heart of our community, giving us hope in the face of darkness. They embody our DC values of love and inclusivity. An attack on them is an attack on all of us,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement on Sunday.
“This weekend, we saw forces of hate seeking to use destruction and intimidation to tear us apart,” she continued. “We will not let that happen, and continue to stand together strong and United to Love.”
A video circulated online showed a group of men appearing to take down a BLM sign at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church as others in the crowd shout, “Whose streets? Our streets.”
The second incident happened at the Asbury United Methodist Church. A separate video showed people call out “We are proud of our boys” before pouring an apparent accelerant on a BLM banner and setting it ablaze in the street. Others cheered and cursed Antifa. Someone is seen walking up about a minute later and uses a fire extinguisher to put out the flames.
“It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames,” the Rev. Dr. Ianther M. Mills, the senior pastor at Asbury church, said in a statement Sunday. “For me, it was reminiscent of cross burnings. Seeing this act on video made me both indignant and determined to fight the evil that has reared its ugly head.”
“We will move forward, undaunted in our assurance that Black Lives Matter and we are obligated to continue to shout that truth without ceasing,” she added.
This is not the first time a fire happened at a church during street demonstrations. In the days following the death of George Floyd, the basement of the 204-year-old St. John’s the Episcopal Church, located across the street from the White House, was set fire by rioters, Fox 5 DC reported. The incident prompted President Trump to pose with a Bible outside the church – a move that drew harsh criticism after law enforcement reportedly used tear gas to clear a crowd of protesters.
Bowser said Sunday that the Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs and the Metropolitan Police Department would be engaging with the impacted houses of worship. She directed anyone with information or additional video of the incidents to call 202-727-9099 or text 50411.
At a press conference Sunday, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter blamed Bowser, as well as D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, for allowing white supremacists to “run rampant” in the nation’s capital. The group on Twitter also criticized a police lieutenant for opening a street, allegedly allowing Proud Boys to have access to and attempt to destroy a Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence.
April Goggans, a lead organizer for Black Lives Matter D.C., accused Bowser of “sitting silent and comfortable in your home as Trump sends his goons in to brutalize your citizens.” She said the mayor’s statement Sunday was meaningless without action.
Black Lives Matter D.C. used its Twitter account Monday to call on supporters to demand that Bowser and city council “enforce the mask ordinance and shut down hotels and businesses that allow Trump supporters to come to DC to spread their hate and COVID-19.”
Thousands attended two pro-Trump rallies in D.C. Saturday, just two days before the Electoral College meets to formally elect Democrat Joe Biden as the 46th president.
After the rallies ended, downtown Washington quickly devolved into crowds of hundreds of Proud Boys and combined forces of Antifa and local Black activists — both sides seeking a confrontation in an area flooded with police officers. As dusk fell, they faced off on opposite sides of a street, with multiple lines of city police and federal Park Police, some in riot gear, keeping them separated.
Police said they arrested nearly 30 people for a variety of offenses, from assault to weapons possession and resisting arrests and rioting. The violence broke out after sundown Saturday.
Four men were stabbed during a fight downtown around 10 p.m., police said. At least one suspect, 29-year-old Phillip Johnson of Washington, was arrested on a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon.
Eight police officers were also injured during the demonstrations.
A pro-Trump demonstration last month, which drew 10,000 to 15,000 people to the capital, also ended late on a Saturday evening with scattered clashes between Trump’s allies and local activists near Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.