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Salt Lake City Police investigating possible 'bias crime' at local African Methodist church

Posted at 7:41 PM, Aug 06, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Police are investigating a possible hate crime involving vandalism at a historic church in Salt Lake City.

Officials with the Salt Lake City Police Department said their officers responded to reports of vandalism at the Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church Sunday afternoon.

Rev. Daryell Jackson said this is the third incident in less than two years.

Members of the congregation found that someone had torn down and damaged a sign that displayed the church's plans for future renovation. That plan includes restoring a community gathering space.

The officers also found a message painted on the sidewalk in front of the church. It read in all-caps: "Stay off my block," "you are not welcome," "no cheats and liars here," and "f*** you."

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Vandalism on the sidewalk in front of the Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City

“You’re like, ‘Who? And why?’ And those kinds of questions: Why would anyone want to do what they did?” asked Jackson.

It is not yet known whether the two incidents of vandalism are related. However, SLCPD said the paint incident occurred last week and was not reported to police at the time.

“It’s disappointing that we’re still at this point in our lives, right?” said Jackson. “That there are still people who have a sense of hatred.”

SLCPD said it is investigating the vandalism as a "potential bias crime" — which is defined by Oxford English Dictionary as a crime "motivated by hatred or intolerance."

The Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church is Utah’s oldest Black church. The congregation was founded before Utah was even a state.

The church’s current building has sat on Martin Luther King Junior Blvd. since 1907. The state deemed it a historic site back in the seventies.

“Trinity AME was a center of the community because it was a place the child could go after school, a lot of community events, a lot of celebrations,” said Robert Burch, executive director of the Sema Hadithi African American Heritage and Culture Foundation.

The foundation works to research and preserve Black history in Utah.

“The purpose of that church is to bring together the community and a sense of love,” said Burch. “Hopefully we can be charitable enough to each other to be able to not let something like that bother us too much.”

Salt Lake City Police put up security cameras on Monday.

There is no known suspect information at this time, so anyone with leads about the incident is asked to call the department at 801-799-3000.

“You’ve got to love your neighbors. They may mistreat you, they may not do what you expect them to and at that respect, but at the end of the day we’re to love our neighbors,” said Jackson.

In just a month, Jackson hopes this will be behind them. On Sept. 9 there will be a public ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating a restoration that’s been ten years in the making. The church building’s 135th anniversary will follow on Sunday.

“I hope it brings excitement. I hope it brings hope,” he said.