African American churches vandalized in Morristown; pastor calls acts hate crimes

Shattered glass outside Morristown's Bethel A.M.E. Church. Police are investigating. Photo courtesy of Bethel A.M.E. Church.
Shattered glass outside Morristown's Bethel A.M.E. Church. Police are investigating. Photo courtesy of Bethel A.M.E. Church.


Glass signs outside four African American churches in Morristown have been vandalized, and at least one pastor views the incidents as more than criminal mischief.

“Whoever’s doing this, we want this classified as a hate crime,” said Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel A.M.E. Church. “We’re concerned about the safety of our members… Someone targeted African American churches, and went out of their way to do it.”

Police are investigating the damage, which occurred sometime late Friday or early Saturday at Bethel, the Church of God in Christ for All Saints, Calvary Baptist Church and Union Baptist Church, Williams said.

Morristown police did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday afternoon. A spokesman for the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office described it as an active investigation, and had no further information.

UPDATE: Prosecutor says Morris Township church also vandalized; incidents are ‘possible bias crime’

Authorities are taking these incidents “very seriously,” said Mayor Tim Dougherty.

Broken glass in front of sign for Morristown's United Church of God in Christ, Nov. 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Bethel A.M.E. Church.
Broken glass in front of sign for Morristown’s United Church of Christ in Morris Township, Nov. 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Bethel A.M.E. Church.

Police Chief Pete Demnitz “will take all necessary steps to make sure everyone is safe” at Sunday worship services, the Mayor said. “People should not worry about attending services on Sunday.”

The Rev. Jerry Carter, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church for 27 years, said he’s never seen multiple churches vandalized in Morristown.  

“It could be pranks, or it could be a bias incident,” said Carter, who serves as president of Morris County’s African American Clergy Alliance. “Details are still sketchy. I’m waiting to see what comes from this and what we will find.”

A marquee was damaged at Calvary, Carter said.

This sign outside Morristown's Union Baptist Church was vandalized, too. Nov. 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Bethel A.M.E. Church.
This sign outside Morristown’s Union Baptist Church was vandalized, too. Nov. 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Bethel A.M.E. Church.

These are anxious times for congregations across the country, in the wake of church shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Charlotte, S.C.

Local church leaders have been reviewing their security procedures, said the Rev. Carol Lynn Patterson, who also preaches at Calvary.

Williams said Bethel was hit after 11 pm on Friday, because he was there until that time. Another church has given its surveillance video to police, he said.

The pastor estimated it will cost about $1,000 to repair the shattered glass enclosure where Bethel’s worship times are posted.

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  1. What’s a hate crime? Aren’t all crime committed out of hate, envy, jealousy, feelings of inferioity?

    When Black Americans commit crimes against other ethnic group it’s never a hate crime. However, when a bunch of idiots do something idiotic against a Black, it’s a hate crime. Hate is a 2 way street. There is no such thing as a hate crime. They are crimes, period.

  2. In response to NS’ question of ‘what evidence is there’? I propose the following. There appear to be 16 houses of worship in Morristown. If just four are historically African American and they are the ones vandalized what are the odds that this would happen at random? The probability of this happening is 1 in 43,680. That is pretty compeling, sadly.

  3. This seems like simple vandalism. What evidence, other than the fact that the target was an historically black church, of racial bias is there? Had the vandals attacked St. Peters, would we be quick to assume anti-white bias? Anti-St. George Cross bias??

    Note to the editor, we also happen to live in the wake of church shootings in Antioch, TN, and Jackson, MS.

  4. I’ve lived in the township for over 25 years. I have always felt safe, and unified with all people in our community. I have never seen racial bias or felt it’s ugly wrath. Hopefully the police will find out who did this through surveliance cameras real soon. Morristown/Morristownship are great places to live- I hope the media doesn’t make it appear anything other than a community of pride and family values.

  5. However these acts are characterized, as vandalism or as hate crimes, they are an insult to our community. An insult to Morristown, to all churches, synagogues and mosques. These acts do not reflect who we are, for we see, daily, the evidence of caring, tolerance, support and generosity—regardless of faith, or no faith, of ethnicity, of race. We will be more determined to demonstrate who we are, as we distance ourselves from those who would spread hatred, those who seek to divide and to poison our community.

  6. Ignorant people use the silly term “African American” in a desperate attempt to be politically-correct.

    They don’t realize that Africa is a continent – not a country.

    Omar Sharif is from Egypt but now lives here. Dave Matthews and Charlize Theron moved here from South Africa. I guess that makes them all African Americans!

    What do you call a black guy in Canada? An African Canadian?

    Some folks just can’t think for themselves.