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