Arrest of black man in black church fire stirs debates

2016-12-23 12:01
Accused arsonist Andrew McClinton is led from the Greenville courthouse under heavy security following his arraignment. (Bill Johnson, AP)

Accused arsonist Andrew McClinton is led from the Greenville courthouse under heavy security following his arraignment. (Bill Johnson, AP)

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Jackson - The arrest of a black man on a charge of burning a black Mississippi church that was spray-painted with the words "Vote Trump" has sparked bickering online and consternation in the community surrounding the church.

Andrew McClinton, 45, has appeared in the Greenville court, a day after he was arrested and charged with a felony: first-degree arson of a place of worship. He requested a public defender and remained in jail with bond set at $250 000.

Hate crime

McClinton, who lives in the Greenville suburb of Leland, spent several years in prison in Mississippi on convictions of armed robbery and other crimes. He is a member of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church of Greenville, which was set alight on November 1, a week before the presidential election.

In the days after the church fire, Greenville Mayor Errick D Simmons - an African-American who took office several months ago on a pledge of racial unity - urged officials to investigate it as a possible hate crime. The FBI said it would do so, but no hate crimes charges have been filed.

Chris Orr, a Greenville resident and former police officer for the city, expressed frustration over the mayor's early words about the fire.

"I have a lot of respect for the mayor," said Orr, who is white. "But, classifying this as a hate crime of a 'historically black church in a black community' before the investigation even got going good was basically profiling the suspect as a white person, whether he directly said it or not."

Many people on Facebook and other social media sites have voiced opinions similar to Orr's, while some African-Americans expressed skepticism about a black man being charged.

Officials haven't revealed what led to McClinton's arrest.

Brick church

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who is also the state fire marshal, said investigators don't believe the fire and vandalism were politically motivated, despite happening a week before the contentious presidential election.

Greenville is a Mississippi River port city and hub of commerce in the cotton-growing delta. About 78% of its 32 100 residents are African-American.

Hopewell was founded in 1905 in the heart of an African-American neighbourhood and the congregation now has about 200 members. Some walls of the beige brick church survived the fire but the remains of the structure were recently torn down. Rebuilding could take months.

Greenville is in Washington County, a traditional Democratic stronghold in a solidly Republican state. In the November 8 presidential election, Republican Donald Trump easily carried Mississippi, but Democrat Hillary Clinton received more than twice the vote of Trump in Washington County.
Read more on:    donald trump  |  us  |  social media  |  us 2016 election

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