Authorities are currently investigating a black swastika that was painted on the outside wall of a historic Black church in Springfield, Missouri, KY 3 reports. Police have described the act of vandalism as a hate crime.
Pitts Chapel United Methodist Church in Springfield reported that the swastika was spray-painted on the building around the date of May 18. The parks crew from the county removed the swastika.
When the news went public about the church being vandalized, both the NAACP and the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the vandalism.
At a news conference with the NAACP held at the church on Friday, the Rev. Tracy Wolff, pastor of the church, said her congregation was “particularly disturbed that their church was targeted given recent violent hate crimes nationwide.” She also mentioned the mass shooting at Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York.
“I want to be clear that this is not simply tagging,” Wolff said. “This is not graffiti. This is not vandalism. This was a hate crime, and it is unacceptable.”
Founded in 1847 by a group of enslaved Africans, Pitts Chapel is Springfield’s oldest Black church, Wolff said.
"Though we are historically Black, on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m., we’re becoming one of the most diverse places in town. I don’t think a lot of people know that,” she added.
“That Pitts Chapel was founded by a group of slaves in itself is an act of resistance,” Wolff pointed out. “To go to your enslaver and say, ‘We want a church!’ is amazing. We’ve come a long way and been through a lot.”
Wolff also noted the history of swastikas and the meaning behind painting the symbol on an African American house of worship.
“The whole purpose of putting that particular symbol on anything is to terrorize people,” Wolff continued. “So our immediate response was anger, fear, all the mixture of emotions. But it then changed to resilience.”
Kai Sutton, Springfield’s NAACP President, said that the Black community in Springfield has encountered this kind of racial terrorism in the past.
“This is not the first time that something like this has taken place in our community,” said Sutton. “It happened a few years ago at the front door of a home of a single mom and her two children. It happened last year at the Bartley-Decatur Neighborhood Center. And now here we are again.”
How many more things need to happen in our community for all of us to be fed up with it?” Wolff added.
Police Chief Paul Williams stated that the investigation is ongoing and requested assistance from the community in tracking down the suspects.
“That’s the one thing we’re lacking,” he told the crowd at the news conference. “Witnesses and additional information that might help us solve this crime. You can help us by calling 417-864-1810 or go through Crime Stoppers.”
Wolff said that attempts to intimidate the Black community and the Pitts UMC will not work.
“You don’t scare us,” she said. “We are Pitts Chapel and we ain’t going nowhere!”