Authorities release photo as they investigate vandalism of African American churches in Greater Morristown

Police are seeking help to identify this man, in connection with their investigation of church vandalism in Morristown and Morris Township. Image courtesy of Morris County CrimeStoppers.
Police are seeking help to identify this man, in connection with their investigation of church vandalism in Morristown and Morris Township. Image courtesy of Morris County CrimeStoppers.
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Authorities investigating the vandalism of five African American churches in Morristown and Morris Township released a surveillance photo on Sunday and asked the public to help them identify it.

The photo, which appears to depict a black male, was released by the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, which has spotlighted this case as its Crime Stoppers Crime of the Week. Anonymous tipsters who help crack the case can receive cash rewards.

Shattered exterior signs were discovered on Saturday morning at Bethel A.M.E., Calvary Baptist Church and Union Baptist Church in Morristown; and at the Morristown Church of Christ in Morris Township.

Morristown police officer provides security outside the Church of God in Christ for Al Saints, Nov. 26, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier.
Morristown police officer provides security outside the Church of God in Christ for Al Saints, Nov. 26, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier.

A stained glass window was broken at the Church of God in Christ for All Saints in Morristown.

The combined incidents are being investigated as a “possible bias crime,” according to a statement from Morris Prosecutor Fredric Knapp.

Police were posted outside churches for Sunday morning services.

“It gave comfort to our members. You just didn’t know what this was about,” said Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel A.M.E.

Citing mass shootings at churches in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Charlotte, S.C., the pastor asserted “we’re living in dark days where the church is not always as safe a place as it should be… and so many of our members are afraid to come to church this morning.”

‘We’re living in dark days’: Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Video by Bill Lescohier for MorristownGreen.com

Sunday attendance was about half Bethel’s usual 90 congregants, Williams said, noting that Thanksgiving travel was another likely reason for low turnout. He said he was heartened by a show of solidarity by an area Jewish congregation, which sent about 20 members to worship at Bethel.

The weekend vandalism “dismayed” the Rev. Robert Rogers, pastor of the Church of God in Christ.

A broken stained-glass window at Morristown's Church of God in Christ for All Saints, Nov. 26, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
A broken stained-glass window at Morristown’s Church of God in Christ for All Saints, Nov. 26, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier

“We believe that temples, synagogues and mosques, are sacred places, and we are praying for the safety of all those sacred places in our community, and in our country,” Rogers said.

His church is working with authorities, he said, “to really find out who did this, and if there is a relatedness to any of these events.”

 

Pastor Robert Rogers of the Church of God in Christ, with Mayor Tim Dougherty, expresses ‘dismay’ at vandalism. Video by Bill Lescohier for MorristownGreen.com

Statements of outrage at the vandalism, and support for the churches, came from public officials and local clergy.

“These cowardly acts will not shake our faith,” Gov.-elect Phil Murphy said in a tweet. “They will renew our determination to come together as one NJ.”

Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-25th Dist.) said perpetrators of such “cowardly actions” often aim to divide people. “As a community, we must resist that temptation and seize this opportunity to unite our community around all that is good,” Bucco said in a statement.

Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel A.M.E. Church beside shattered sign, Nov. 26, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel A.M.E. Church beside shattered sign, Nov. 26, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier

The Morris Area Clergy Council said the vandalism against black churches has sparked “outrage in people of faith throughout Morris County,” and called for prayers on behalf of the affected churches.

“There is no place for this kind of behavior in Morristown and we as leaders of faith must speak forcefully against these shameful acts,” the Rev. Cynthia Black, president of the clergy council and rector of Morristown’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, said in a statement.

Authorities are asking anyone with information to contact the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Bias Crimes Unit at 973-285-6200, Morristown Police at 973-538-2200, or Morris Township Police at 973-539-0777.

Anonymous tips can be provided to Crime Stoppers by calling 973-COP-CALL (973-267- 2255), or online.

Morristown Green contributor Bill Lescohier contributed to this report.

MORE ABOUT THE CHURCH VANDALISM

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