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A day after a Black church in Berkeley put up a “Black Lives Matter” sign, someone tried to burn down the church, church leaders said Thursday.
Police said officers and firefighters went at 12:43 a.m. Wednesday to The Way Christian Center at 1305 University Ave. after someone reported a fire.
A person had set a plastic trash bin on fire in the rear parking lot of the church, according to police. The Black Lives Matter sign, which was on the front of the church, was not damaged.
“The fire was going up the building,” said the Rev. Michael McBride, who has worked against police brutality, registered people to vote and spoken out against white supremacy for decades.
“For decades, church fires were used as a means of terrorizing Black clergy and the Black community. I guess in Berkeley, it’s not something worthy of special attention by law enforcement officials.”Rev. Michael McBride, The Way Christian Center
He wondered whether the sign irritated the suspect, and he called the fire an act of racial terror.
Someone saw a person standing over the fire. The person left the area walking east on University Avenue in a tan poncho or jacket with reflective material, police said. Officers searched for the suspect, who remains at large.
“Regardless of the intentions of the suspect, we will not be silenced or intimidated,” McBride said in a statement. “Were it not for an alert and courageous neighbor, my entire church could have been burned to the ground.”
Police spokesman Officer Byron White said police are looking whether the fire was a hate crime. Police added extra patrols overnight, White said. He said the church has been in the community for years.
“This is important to us,” White said.
Church leaders are also upset about the way city officials handled the arson. The church leaders said police did not call the pastor or an elder, but only left a card under the front door.
“For decades, church fires were used as a means of terrorizing Black clergy and the Black community,” McBride said. “I guess in Berkeley, it’s not something worthy of special attention by law enforcement officials.”
White said Police Chief Andrew Greenwood reached out to the church on Wednesday, but White didn’t know exactly when that was.
Neither the chief nor Mayor Jesse Arreguin was at a news briefing Thursday morning at the church, the people who attended said.
“How long will our houses of worship burn?” McBride said.
“The Way Church is not deterred,” he said. “We will repair the damage. We will hire security.”
Berkeley police are asking anyone with information about the arson to call the Police Department’s property crime unit at 510-981-5737.