Mississippi state and federal law enforcement is investigating the incident at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, and authorities are classifying it as a hate crime.
Police arrived at the 111-year-old church after 11:00 PM local time Tuesday night. The inside of the church showed clear signs of being burned with deep black marks stretching from the windows. The words “Vote Trump” were spray painted in white on the side of the building. It took emergency responders nearly an hour to extinguish the flames. “We’re very cautious in this climate, in this day and time, to make sure we’re very deliberate in investigating matters like this,” Greenville mayor Errick Simmons said, according to the Atlantic. He called the fire a “direct assault on people’s right to free worship,” and later said that, “I see this as an attack on the black church and the black community.” Although Greenville’s population is almost 80% African-American, Simmons said there have been racially motivated incidents occurring lately, including a boat with a racial slur painted on it that was found by officials in November. Despite this, the mayor says there is “a concerted, intentional effort for racial reconciliation among the races” in the city.