Redeemer rally: The sign is broken but all remain welcome, amid skepticism about criminal charge

Crowd at 'Witness for Love' rally, Church of the Redeemer, June 1, 2023. Photo by Sharon Sheridan


By Marion Filler


Was it a bias incident or wasn’t it? Ten days after the destruction of a $15,000 “All Are Welcome” sign outside the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, a Clifton man, Klenti Allushi, 22, surrendered to Morristown police this week.

The Rev. Sidney Williams Jr., pastor of Bethel Church, prays with the Rev. Cynthia Black, rector of Redeemer, at ‘Witness for Love’ rally, Church of the Redeemer, June 1, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Although the vandalism occurred just hours after the church had erected flags bearing Gay Pride rainbow colors, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office said it did not rise to the level of a hate crime, and instead charged Allushi with third-degree criminal mischief for his alleged intent to destroy property.

Despite the fact that Allushi came forth voluntarily, the Rev. Cynthia Black, rector of Redeemer, remained a little skeptical about his motivation.

“What we know is, if someone were pressed, they would be unlikely to admit that that was what they had done,” Black said Thursday at a “Witness for Love” rally she organized that included local clergy and the Morristown community, to show support for LGBTQ+ and diversity.

Slideshow photos by Sharon Sheridan and Kevin Coughlin; click/hover on images for captions:

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The Rev. Sidney Williams Jr., pastor of Bethel AME Church in Morristown, had strong words for Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll.

“When he was asked to say something on camera, he refused,” Williams told the crowd, gathered amidst rainbow-colored balloons on the Redeemer lawn.

“As a leader, your first response is to have a duty of care, not to hide behind law books, not to hide behind your office, your title and position, but to show that you love and you care and you have concern — not whether it was a hate crime or not.”

“We know how it [the destruction of the sign] makes us feel and whether or not the Court decides it was a hate crime does not make it feel any better for us,” Williams said.

Video: Pastor pokes Prosecutor:

“Not too long ago, our sign was damaged, and while it turned out that it was not a hate crime, what it did, it struck fear. It reminded us of the nine people who were killed in Charleston, SC, by a gunman who walked in and did commit a hate crime.”

The Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment on Friday in response to the pastor’s remarks.

Thursday’s large crowd on the lawn of the stately church on South Street appeared eager to show its support for tolerance and solidarity, whatever the circumstances surrounding the damaged sign might be.

“Thank you for being so supportive for the last few weeks as our community has lived with a lot of uncertainty and even – yes, I can say this – a lot of fear,” said Black. Gratefully acknowledging the “encouragement, support, outrage and love” from neighbors near and far, she announced that the goal to raise money for a new sign has been met.

Rabbi Michael Satz of Temple B’nai Or and Bishop Bill Ludlam of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints spoke, echoing the theme of acceptance and love to counter hate.

Megan Chappius sings at ‘Witness for Love’ rally, Church of the Redeemer, June 1, 2023. Photo by Marion Filler

The Rev. Anne Thatcher, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and her assistant rector, the Rev. Elizabeth Ivell; and the Rev. Luana Cook Scott, pastor of the Morristown United Methodist Church, also participated.

Musical interludes included Megan Chappius of Morristown, who sang and played the guitar. Fourteen-year-old Bernardsville resident Audrey Johnson, a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, was accompanied by her mother, Sariah Johnson, on the cello, and Bill Gallagher on keyboard as she sang.

A young man waves rainbow flags at ‘Witness for Love’ rally, Church of the Redeemer, June 1, 2023. Photo by Marion Filler

Small rainbow flags were distributed, and people ate free gelato, courtesy of Guerriero’s, and free cookies from The Artist Baker.

As dusk began to fall, Methodist Music Director John Liepold led members of the St. Peter’s chorus and the audience in the grand finale– a rousing three-part version of Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace), ending the evening on a joyful note.

Video: Community sing-along, in Latin:

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  1. John Q, good point. Hey, it’s 2023, and you can now say, “I hate what they did, charge them with a hate crime, I say!” That’s all it takes. When you hate a crime, it’s now a hate crime.

  2. I call ‘‘em like I read ‘em. Perhaps a question mark after your “Not good enough that a confession was made” would have captured your voice as otherwise it reads as a declaration that his confession wasn’t sufficient. Punctuation can save lives…Think about “let’s eat, kids”. Vs. “let’s eat kids”.

  3. @ KAM – you have any evidence to support the hate crime? Facts circulated were that the crime occurred at 1:26am and the group of 10 (7 males and 3 females) damaged multiple signs. Current hate crime statutes require prosecutors to prove that the accused acted out of racist motives in committing a criminal act, and this burden is difficult for a prosecutor to meet.

    Can we agree that justice has been served and the vandal has been apprehended? It wasn’t as if he hid in the shadows to evade capture. Or damaged this sign in particular because they had rainbow flags near it. What is the preference here? Have the community move forward? Or go after a 22 year old kid who was reckless after drinking too much?

    I’m not sure what other evidence many commenters have (or that may exist), but the notion that this kid has to suffer some horrible consequence is a bad mindset for the community at-large. Let’s not let his behavior influence our community. Thanks for coming forward, Klenti. Smarten up and move on.