Shooting in a church should be a hate crime

Chip Johnson

April 30th 2010

The gang members who opened fire at a funeral service in East Oakland on Tuesday should be prosecuted under state and federal hate crime statutes.

Firing a weapon into or inside a house of worship packed with mourners is about as direct an assault on an individual’s religious beliefs as you can get. Thankfully, no was hit by the half dozen rounds fired.

Similar shootings have occurred twice in Richmond churches, including a 2006 assault that seriously injured a pallbearer. In February, three males walked into a Richmond church during Sunday services and shot two teenage brothers. They survived and one man faces charges in the shooting.

Gang-related church shootings also have been reported in Portland, Ore.; Chicago; and suburban Detroit.

As a black American, it’s unthinkable to me that our youngsters are terrorizing their own communities with the same methods employed by the Ku Klux Klan.

In the modern era, only two groups are commonly associated with an assault on a church or synagogue or a mosque: military troops and terrorists – and the five people arrested outside the Cosmopolitan Baptist Church on Tuesday are not soldiers. Two juveniles, ages 16 and 17, are among those suspected of firing weapons outside the church.

Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Alameda, said he plans to meet with county prosecutors to determine if the crime falls under existing hate crime laws or whether new legislation should be introduced.

“Crimes against churches have historically been considered hate crimes, and I’m not trying to presuppose a motive,” he said.

“What makes this so horrific, particularly in communities of color, is the historical significance of the church and its role as a sanctuary,” Swanson said.

“It is a crime that we have to label as hate or terrorist activity and we should have enhanced penalties for it,” he said.

Oakland police believe the motive for the shooting was merely the opportunity to catch several rival gang members at a single location.

The funeral of Davante Riley, who was shot one day after his 18th birthday, “had nothing to do with it,” said Officer Jeff Thomason, a spokesman for the Oakland Police Department.

After the shooters from the rival group had fled, a fight broke out among the mourners because some had brought weapons and fired them, Thomason said.

Church shootings have become a way to express the ultimate form of disrespect of a person or group.

“Part of the reason they do it is because of the level of transgression involved,” said City Attorney John Russo, who is fighting to push through a North Oakland civil gang injunction. “It’s intended to show disrespect, to show that it doesn’t end at the grave,” he said.

If such acts are violent expressions of territorial control, then it is being directed at one of the few institutions still willing to accept the challenge of helping to raise at-risk African American kids growing up in some of the nation’s toughest inner-city neighborhoods.

In Oakland, the churches with the large congregations, like Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland, have opened schools, established nonprofit programs and provided daily meals to community members. Small congregations, too, across this city and across the nation have lent hearts, hands and income to aid families living in low-income neighborhoods and long-forgotten outposts.

In an era in of government-approved penalty enhancements for drug-dealing near schools, using weapons in the commission of a felony and a wide variety of protections for individual lifestyle and choice, the disturbing trend of firing on a church property should be dealt with swiftly and severely.

“I think we have to push back and show there is zero tolerance for acts like this,” Swanson said. “When we talk about terrorism, we’re not just talking about something that happens in Iraq and at airports anymore.”

Judging by the increasing frequency of such incidents, I’d have to agree.

Posted by on Apr 30 2010. Filed under News, Race. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Comments for “Shooting in a church should be a hate crime”

  1. SCARTOWN

    Why is the picture for this article from Toronto? Thats a Toronto P.D. cruiser.

  2. How cleverly you write, probably a long time honing their skills?

  3. no shots were fired inside the church. not one.

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