Civil rights leaders in Springfield Massachusetts, where a black church was burned four years ago, are urging local churches to be on guard as election day approaches. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The Springfield branch of the NAACP has sent a 19 page security guide to more than 100 churches in western Massachusetts. The Springfield NAACP president, Rev. Talbert Swan said the organization is concerned that African American churches could be the targets of hate crimes should President Obama be re-elected.
Swan said national studies have found an increase in hate crimes and an increase in membership in hate groups. The Springfield branch of the NAACP , earlier, sent a letter to area churches urging them to encourage their members to get involved in the election to combat what Swan said are concerted efforts to suppress minority voter turnout.
The 19 page security guide, which is co-sponsored by an insurance company, suggests ways to protect church property from arson, vandalism and other crimes, including theft. It covers such topics as lighting, surveillance and alarm systems, access to keys and keeping track of who is on the premises.
Four years ago, arsonists burned down the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominately black church in Springfield. The fire was set just hours after the election of the country’s first black president. Three white Springfield men, whom authorities said where motivated by racial hatred, were convicted of burning down the church and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
The church was rebuilt, and just last week its members celebrated the one year anniversary of the new building. The pastor of the Macedonia Church, Bishop Bryant Robinson said the NAACP is recognizing the potential for hate crimes to be committed as a result of the election. Robinson said the campaign is filled with code words, such as references to people receiving government benefits, that he said increase racial tensions.
Robinson said he hoped the swift arrests and the punishments of three people responsible for burning down his church will deter copy-cats.
Springfield Police Sergeant John Delaney, the top aid to the police commissioner, said local law enforcement has heard of no credible threats against black churches.
Delaney urged people to call police immediately if they see anyone hanging around a church especially at night when there are no church activities scheduled.