Community rallies support after fire at Berkeley church

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Alexander Hong/Senior Staff
The Way Christian Center has seen various forms of support from the community following an arson on the church's property, which occurred hours after it hung up a Black Lives Matter sign.

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After an arson Wednesday morning at The Way Christian Center, there has been an outpouring of support for the church, as well as calls for justice from community leaders.

Mike McBride, pastor at the center, said he put a Black Lives Matter banner on the building Tuesday afternoon, hours before an unknown assailant set fire to three garbage cans outside of the church. A GoFundMe for the church was set up Thursday with a goal of $25,000 — as of press time, the fund has raised more than $40,000.

McBride added that the police left an incident card under the church’s front door, but church leaders were not otherwise notified of the arson.

“What’s most disappointing is that a Black church being burned in Berkeley did not rise to the level of urgency within the city, mostly within the Fire and Police departments, to notify city managers, the mayor or even us formally,” McBride said.

McBride added that he will be looking at security footage from adjacent homes and businesses, and that the money raised will enable the church to set up a security system.

During a press conference Thursday morning, McBride denounced the arson and confirmed the church’s commitment to dismantling white supremacy and white supremacist institutions. Comedian W. Kamau Bell and Jacqueline Thompson, reverend of Allen Temple Baptist Church, also spoke at the conference and were joined by community members.

Moni Law, a Berkeley resident and member of The Way Christian Center, sent an email to the Berkeley Police Department and city officials after the incident asking whether there is a BPD arson investigation unit, what the BPD defines as a hate crime, if evidence was gathered from the scene of the crime and for data on previous hate crimes.

“We are not paranoid, we are realistic,” Law said in an email, citing the rising incidents of hate crimes throughout the country.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín also gave a statement regarding the incident. In it, he requested that the arson be investigated as a hate crime and condemned anti-Black hate and racism in Berkeley.

McBride said he believes the city needs to become more familiar with the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, which created federal criminal codes and penalties for damaging religious property or obstructing free exercise of religion.

In addition, McBride said he thinks the city needs to work on better ways to notify places of worship of arson or attempted arson.

In the days following the arson, McBride said people have been bringing flowers to the church and are turning the site of the incident into a shrine.

“I’m overwhelmed with gratitude; it brings tears to my eyes to see how quickly community members have responded,” McBride said. “Not in my wildest dreams did I expect this level of love and generosity and charity to our church.”

Contact Mela Seyoum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @melaseyoum.