WASHINGTON — Faith leaders from across the DMV gathered on the steps of Asbury United Methodist Church to hang a new Black Lives Matter banner and renounce white supremacy in a service of unity on Friday December 18.
The service comes less than a week after their original banner was torn down and set on fire during a protest over the weekend.
A group of demonstrators was seen on video ripping and setting fire to Black Lives Matter banners at two African American churches in D.C. during a late-night Pro-Trump protest on Saturday, December 12.
According to the Black Lives Matter organization, Asbury Methodist, the oldest African American church to remain on its original site, was one of two Black churches they said was targeted by the group during the unrest. They said the group also "attacked" Metropolitan AME Church.
"They (were given) the right to roam D.C. streets and tear down Black Lives Matter signs. That’s a hate crime," said NeeNee Taylor, Co-organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C. "This is unacceptable, and BLM is demanding that police be held accountable and the city council hold Muriel Bowser accountable for allowing the Proud Boys to come back to our city and do the exact same thing they did November the 14.”
In videos circulating on social media, you could see a group of protesters surrounding a Black Lives Matter banner that belonged to Asbury Methodist as they chanted "F***k Antifa!" and set it on fire causing damage.
Another video showed the moment a group removed a Black Lives Matter sign from Metropolitan AME church and ripped it.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said at least four churches, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Asbury United Methodist Church, Luther Place Memorial Church and Metropolitan AME Church, had property damage. He said the department is investigating each incident as a hate crime and police have released "very good" images of the suspects in these cases.
"Whenever someone attacks a place of worship it's unsettling for all of us," Newsham said.
The pastor of Asbury Methodist Church said in a statement released Sunday that the act reminded him of the "reminiscent of cross burnings."
Read the full statement below released by Senior Pastor Dr. Ianther M. Mills of Asbury Methodist Church:
The religious leaders at the National Cathedral released a statement on the damage to the churches in the city. Saying, "We reject the version of Christianity that seeks to provide a mantle of spiritual authority to the poison of White nationalism."
"...The blatant racism of this lost cause is alarming. The senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church was right to call the burning of her church’s banner a new version of cross burnings.
White hoods have given way to black-and-gold militarism. Such hatred grieves the very heart of God, and we cannot turn a blind eye to such displays of white supremacy.
We believe that Black Lives Matter because Black lives matter to God. The Proud Boys and their hatred are not welcome here..."
Now, leaders of the Black Lives Matter organization are calling on the Justice Department to open a federal civil rights investigation into the D.C. Black churches that were targeted by groups the organization believes were white supremacists and members of the Proud Boys.
“Yesterday, D.C. was invaded by white supremacists who were aided and protected by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD),” said April Goggans, a core organizer with Black Lives Matter D.C. “We never expect police to protect Black people or anyone critical of police; and the people of D.C. need to be clear MPD physically protected white supremacists, as they threatened lives, damaged historic churches and destroyed and burned property. MPD allowed Proud Boys to physically attack D.C. residents who stood against white supremacy,” Black Lives Matter D.C. said in a statement.
Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director for Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law tweeted that the burning of the Black Lives Matter was an act of violence that goes against the Church Arson Prevention Act.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement Sunday that her Religious Affairs Office and D.C. Police are "engaging the impacted house of worship."
Goggans spoke to WUSA9's Jess Arnold late Sunday and said what Bowser said did not go far enough to combat white supremacists in the streets of the District.
“Her [Mayor Bowser] statement today on Twitter, means little if nothing without action, because the only action we’ve seen is that that makes this OK," said Goggans.
The unrest in the District led to 33 "un-related" arrests, four people were stabbed at the intersection of 11th Street and F Street in downtown D.C. near Black Lives Matter Plaza and eight officers were injured in connection to the demonstrations, D.C. Police said Sunday.
All four stabbing victims were transported to an area hospital, conscious and breathing, for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, according to D.C. Police.
Black Lives Matter D.C. leaders held a news conference on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Black Lives Matter Plaza to call on Mayor Bowser to defend and protect the rights of D.C. residents under attack by Trump supporters and white supremacists.