The Charleston church shooting, carried out by white supremacist Dylann Roof, has reminded mainstream America racism isn’t dead. The attack has sparked several copycat incidents. The Southern Poverty Law Center said up to six black churches were damaged or destroyed in June. The Associated Press reports New Shiloh Christian Center in Melbourne, Fla. is the latest Black church to be vandalized. Local police have labeled the attack a “hate crime.”
According to The AP, vandals ransacked the church and scrawled “SS Charleston 2” on the side of a truck. The message is believed to be a reference to the Charleston shooting.
“This, in correlation with the other criminal mischief incidents, and based on the totality of the incidents, we’re believing it is a hate crime,” said Cmdr. Dan Lynch of the Melbourne Police Department. “There were multiple suspects,” Lynch added, saying the department has a “team of detectives scouring the area.” Police have also requested assistance from the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and are offering a cash reward for information leading to an arrest.
This is third time the church has been vandalized in the last six months. Police reported vandals had previously set the church ablaze and scrawled a swastika and spray painted a noose on a storage shed. The overall damage is estimated to be $10,000, according to Florida Today.
Bishop Jacquelyn Gordon said the latest incident forces police to take the attacks seriously.
“This is good but I’ll feel relief when we have some concrete answers. Maybe now the [police] will get to the bottom of this… maybe this madness will end,” said Gordon in an interview with Florida Today.
Gordon is raising money to try and improve security at the church which has about 1,500 members. She said the crimes against her church were more than just teenage vandalism.
“The vandals actually brought axes to chop through our access points to get in. This is not under the rug anymore. You don’t want a repeat of what happened in Charleston,” Gordon said.
While Melbourne police have finally labeled the attacks on New Shiloh Christian Center a hate crime, others are more reluctant to use the phrase. A few days after the attack, several Republican presidential candidates refused to say Roof was motivated by racial hatred. Former Sen. Rick Santorum said the attack was an assault on Christianity. And former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Roof was motivated by drugs, before backtracking. Even FBI Director James Comey first said he didn’t know if the attack didn’t fit the definition of terrorism.
While Roof’s attack might have spawned some copycats, it has also motivated some good. South Carolina has voted to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol and white Charleston residents are trying to improve race relations.
In addition, a group of young Muslims has raised $48,000 to help Black churches rebuild. The campaign was created by Faatimah Knight, a theology student, who set a goal of raising $50,000 on LaunchGood, a crowdfunding site.
“All houses of worship are sanctuaries… let’s unite to help our sisters and brothers in faith,” wrote Knight on the campaign’s website.
Knight told CNN that as a Black person, she felt a personal connection to the plight of Black churchgoers.
“Supporting these churches hit me most as a Black person,” Knight said. “It has been a challenging time to be Black in America.”
She said she’s pleased with the results of her call for help.
“The response has been overwhelmingly supportive,” she said. “There have been a few people who were confused about why Muslims would rebuild a church, but for the most part people are totally on board.”