Historic Black church vandalized, SLC police investigating as ‘potential bias crime’
Aug 6, 2023, 8:07 PM | Updated: Aug 7, 2023, 6:20 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — One of Utah’s oldest predominately Black churches was vandalized as church signs were torn down and suspected hate speech was painted on the sidewalk.
“There could be some hidden message behind it,” said Trinity African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church Reverend Daryell Jackson. “We now have to continue to not let our guard down and be observant of everything that goes on around us.”
On Sunday afternoon, Salt Lake City police said they were called to the Trinity African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church to investigate vandalism and a potential bias crime.
“We’ve got to figure out who this person is and figure out where they’re at so we can talk to them and really figure out why they did what they did,” said Salt Lake City police Sgt. Mark Wian. “Then, we work with the district attorney’s office to determine, did this meet the criteria of a bias or hate crime?”
Police said they don’t know if the incidents are connected.
Jackson said the banner that was torn down on July 30 served as a welcome invitation to the public for the church’s groundbreaking ceremony celebrating recent renovations.
“When you’re trying to spread love to the community, and what we’re doing with our own facilities, it gets to be a little bit disheartening as you’re trying to preach the gospel, but we still have to show love to one another, and Christ tells us to love our enemies,” he said.
SLC PD officers found a message written on the sidewalk in front of the church Sunday afternoon. KSL TV found the message reading, “Stay off my block. You are not welcome. No cheats and liars here, (expletive) you.”
Police said the message was written on the sidewalk last week but was not reported.
“This is like the third incident we’ve had in the last two years,” Jackson said. He said that’s why church members didn’t immediately report the sidewalk vandalism. He said when the banner was found damaged about one week later, they called the police.
He said the repeated acts are disheartening.
“You don’t want to say that you become dull to it or desensitized to it,” Jackson said. “Do we have to hire security just to keep not only the building safe, but the people that come to church and want to come and worship here?”
He said it also makes him and his church family leery.
“Especially being more of a predominant Black congregation, it definitely enters into our minds,” he said.
SLC PD said they want every member of the community to feel a sense of belonging.
“There’s no place for hate or bias in our community,” Wian said.
KSL asked police if the department is using the words ‘bias’ and ‘hate’ synonymously.
“We want to make sure, especially when something like this happens to a targeted group of community members or a church or things like that, we want to make sure we’re doing a thorough investigation to help cover our bases to make sure that whoever’s doing this isn’t targeting a specific group,” Wian explained. “Right now, based on that preliminary information what we have right now, that’s why we’re looking into this as a biased crime.”
Jackson said he’s hopeful the incidents will stop so his congregation can worship in peace. He said the previous acts of vandalism on the property have gone unsolved.
“We’re still here and we’re not going anywhere and our doors are still open to the community,” he said.
The pastor said he’s having conversations with authorities about installing a camera outside of the church building.
SLC PD said they have no suspect information. They’re asking people who live or work nearby to check their cameras for any evidence. Anyone with information can call 801-799-3000.
According to the AME Church website, the church was established before Utah was admitted to the Union in 1896, making it over 125 years old.
“Trinity has been recognized as one of 14 centennial churches by the Utah Statehood Centennial Commission. That means the Salt Lake church, estimated to be anywhere from 127 to 131 years old, was established before Utah was admitted to the Union in 1896 as the 45th state. Trinity is the only black congregation to receive that recognition,” according to the church’s website.