In the wake of eight church fires across the South, Charlotte NAACP President Corine Mack issued a call to action Thursday night, urging a sanctuary full of residents, ministers and community leaders to “no longer be silent” in the face of racism.
“We cannot afford to have another church burned,” she told nearly 100 people – black and white, Christian and Muslim – at Little Rock AME Zion Church on North McDowell Road. “We cannot afford to have another soul taken from us.”
The gathering, sponsored by the Charlotte NAACP, came in response to the fire authorities say was intentionally set at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church last week.
The FBI is investigating to determine if the arson violated federal crimes. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said this week there’s no direct evidence to suggest it was a hate crime. At least eight predominantly African-American churches in the South have been burned in the last week. Three of them are being investigated as arson.
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The fires come on the heels of the arrest of 21-year-old Dylann Roof, charged in the killings of nine black parishioners attending Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston June 17.
728 churches in Charlotte city limits
850 churches in Mecklenburg CountySource: Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Detective Gary McFadden
On Thursday, CMPD Detective Garry McFadden gave tips on how churches can improve their safety, including organizing emergency drills, taking head counts and investing in security cameras and alarms.
He also warned congregants against overreacting when visitors walk into their sanctuaries.
“A 75-year-old church mother is more effective than a bouncer. She knows everybody and their grandchild,” he said.
Some attendees questioned how they could support churches that have been burned. Others wanted to know how to safeguard their own. One woman bashed the Ku Klux Klan’s planned rally in Columbia on July 18.
The Rev. Dwayne Walker, pastor of Little Rock AME Zion, said he wanted to focus on finding solutions to hatred and intolerance.
“We’re concerned about racial injustice,” he said, adding that cowering in fear is not effective in dispelling prejudice. “I’m determined to have more church...more prayer...more Bible study.”
McFadden, with CMPD, said he could not discuss the Briar Creek fire investigation but did say police have interviewed at least 15 people in connection with the incident.
“It’s not the average somebody striking a match,” he said, adding that Charlotte has 728 churches in the city and 850-plus in the county. “That’s a lot of churches –a lot of people in congregations.”
Mack said it’s those same churchgoers who have confronted prejudice head on. She discussed Bree Newsome, the Charlotte activist arrested this past weekend after removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House in Columbia, and asked how many in the audience would do the same.
“Clearly hate is on the rise,” Mack said. “It’s incumbent on white people to have hard conversations with their counterparts.”
Aisha Dew, former chair of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, attends a predominantly black church in Charlotte. She’s concerned about safety yet “as a person of faith, I refuse to live in fear,” she said.
“This is not a post-racial America,” she said. “We have to have people from all different ages, ethnicities, religions (talking with each other)...we need to hear from Caucasian people that black lives matter.”
McFadden: 704-358-6045; Twitter: @JmcfaddenObsGov