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Black Lives Matter signs burned at D.C. churches; police investigate as possible hate crimes

The destruction during protests "was reminiscent of cross burnings,” said the Rev. Ianther Mills of historic Asbury United Methodist Church.
Image: BESTPIX - Supporters Of President Trump Gather In D.C. To Protest Election Results
Members of the far-right group the Proud Boys march toward Freedom Plaza during a protest Saturday in Washington.Stephanie Keith / Getty Images

Black Lives Matter signs that apparently were burned and destroyed at historic Black churches in Washington, D.C., during a pro-Trump rally this weekend are being investigated as possible hate crimes, authorities said Sunday.

D.C. police said they were seeking information about the incidents, which occurred at Asbury United Methodist Church, founded in 1836, and Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Frederick Douglass' funeral was held in 1895.

"This weekend, we saw forces of hate seeking to use destruction and intimidation to tear us apart," Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, said in a statement Sunday. "We will not let that happen, and continue to stand together strong and United to Love."

She said the police department and religious affairs officials from her office reached out to the churches Sunday.

In a statement, Asbury's senior pastor, the Rev. Ianther Mills, said pro-Trump supporters removed a Black Lives Matter sign from the church and "literally burned it in the street."

"It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames," she said. "For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings."

Seeing the incident on video, Mills said, "made me both indignant and determined to fight the evil that has reared its ugly head."

"We had been so confident that no one would ever vandalize the church, but it has happened," she said.

It wasn't immediately clear what video Mills was referring to. A widely circulated clip on social media purported to show far-right protesters burning a Black Lives Matter sign a few blocks east of the White House.

Another widely circulated video appeared to show protesters tearing a Black Lives Matter sign from nearby Metropolitan AME Church.

Metropolitan posted a brief statement Sunday on Twitter saying, "Black Lives Matter yesterday, today, and always."

Yolanda Pierce, dean of the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, called the alleged incidents "acts of both racial terror and religious violence."

"Burning Black Lives Matter signs ripped from churches is an explicit threat to the sanctity of the Black church and to Black lives and freedom, even if the church itself is not historically Black," she said.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, said that in addition to Douglass', the funeral for her cousin, the longtime Washington journalist Gwen Ifill, was also held at Metropolitan in 2016.

Several people were stabbed during Saturday's event, as pro-Trump supporters fought with counterprotesters amid anti-coronavirus restriction protests and a rally held by Trump's supporters.

NBC Washington reported Sunday that their conditions were critical but non-life-threatening. A man identified as Phillip Johnson, 29, was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon in connection with the quadruple stabbing, the station reported.

It wasn't immediately clear what led to the stabbing.