Fire at church in Berkeley incites arson investigation

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Several hours after a Black Lives Matter flag was hung up at The Way Christian Center, an individual set a trash bin in the church's parking lot on fire.

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The Berkeley Police and Fire departments responded early Wednesday morning to reports of a fire at The Way Christian Center.

When the responders arrived at the center at 12:43 a.m., they discovered a plastic trash bin had been set afire in the building’s rear parking lot. The individual who reported the fire witnessed a person — of an unknown race and age — set the fire and then walk eastbound on University Avenue. Officers did not find the suspect while searching the area.

According to a press release from Michael McBride, the church’s lead pastor and a co-founder of the Black Church PAC, he and other church officials were not notified of the fire. A minister at the church found property damage to the church building in addition to the burned trash bins, according to the press release.

The fire happened several hours after McBride hung a Black Lives Matter flag on the church, the press release adds. McBride said church fires have been historically been used to “terrorize” Black clergy and communities.

“Regardless of the intentions of the suspect, we will not be silenced or intimidated,” McBride said in the press release. “Were it not for an alert and courageous neighbor, my entire church could have been burned to the ground.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín released his own statement on the arson, saying he had contacted the city manager requesting the incident be investigated as a hate crime.

Arreguín added that he takes the incident very seriously and said those responsible would be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“The fear and trauma this incident creates is unacceptable,” Arreguín said in the statement. “Anti-Black hate, and all forms of racism has, no place in Berkeley.”

Sebastian Cahill is a deputy news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.