Morristown man charged with vandalism of black churches; not a bias crime, authorities say

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.
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A church surveillance video led police to a Morristown man who has been charged in connection with the weekend vandalism of five black churches in Morristown and Morris Township.

Zuri C. Towns, 45, was arrested by police detectives on Sunday and charged with four counts of criminal mischief, a fourth degree crime, and one count of criminal mischief, a third degree offense.

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.
Authorities released this surveillance photo during their investigation of church vandalism. Image courtesy of Morris County Crime Stoppers.

“Mr. Towns provided a statement to police confirming his involvement in these incidents and confirmed that he acted alone. The defendant previously attended services at one of the vandalized churches as a minor,” Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp said in a statement released Sunday evening.

Knapp added that “no evidence was obtained that would indicate this was a bias incident, which legally requires purpose to intimidate a person or group based upon their protected class.”
 
Towns, who lived near several of the churches, was issued summons complaints pending a court appearance.

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.

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

“I’m glad it wasn’t bias,” said the Rev. Carol Lynn Paterson of Calvary Baptist Church.

Police were stationed outside the churches during Sunday morning services, and at least one pastor, the Rev. Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel A.M.E., said some of his congregants stayed home because, during this era of church shootings, they were fearful.

Williams said the community’s response over the weekend has made him proud to live here.

“The community came together. Things easily could have spun out of control,” he said.

Mayor Tim Dougherty, who visited the affected churches on Sunday morning with Councilwoman Hiliari Davis, praised the police for their fast work, and residents for their outpouring of support for the churches.

“Cory Booker said back in January, if you want to see a Beloved Community, come to Morristown. I believe him,” the Mayor said, recounting the Democratic Senator’s appearance at his campaign kickoff.  

The “Beloved Community” was Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for a healthy society.

Knapp singled out Pastors Robert Rogers of the Church of God in Christ and Craig Dunn  of the Morristown Church of Christ for special thanks, along with his investigators and police in Morristown and Morris Township.

MORE COVERAGE OF THE CHURCH VANDALISM

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Why isn’t the males race given? Had he been a white male that would of been the headline, “White male damages African American Churches”. Now that it’s known he’s not white, it’s not that big of a deal. It changes everything that he’s a black male that damaged the black churches. There would have been protest and riots if he was white, but nothing because he is black.

  2. So quick to label this a “bias” crime or racially motivated crime. What now? Because the guy charged is African American it’s not that bad? The pastors and their congregation were praying this was a white male that did this. Now that it’s one of their own what are they going to do/say?

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