Arrest of the black man in the black church fire stirs debates

This is one of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety undated state driver’s license photo of Andrew McClinton, of Leland, Miss., who was arrested by the Greenville Police Department, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 in Greenville , Miss., in connection with the Nov. 1, 2016 fire in Greenville on the Cemetery and Missionary Baptist Church.

(Mississippi Department of Public Safety via AP)

JACKSON, Miss. – The arrest of a black man in the costs of the burning of a black Mississippi church that was sprayed with the words “Vote Trump”, has led to a fight online and consternation in the community around the church.

Andrew McClinton, 45, made a first appearance Thursday in Greenville, a day after he was arrested and accused of a crime: first-degree arson of a place of worship. He requested a public defender and remained in jail with bond set at $250,000.

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

In the days after the fire in the church, Greenville Mayor Errick D. Simmons — an Afro-American who took office just a few months ago on a pledge to racial unity — and urged the officials to investigate it as a possible hate crime. The FBI said it would do, 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,” Orr, who is white, said Thursday. “But, classifying this as a hate crime of a historic black church in a black community” for the investigation even got going was good in principle, the profiling of the suspect, as a white person, or he directly said or not.”

Simmons not return a call to The Associated Press on Thursday, but his twin brother, Democratic state Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville, said the mayor had the right approach.

“There is a dark past in America and in the Deep South with regard to the burning of African American churches,” Derrick Simmons said. “The way law enforcement authorities initially investigated the case as a hate crime I believe was justified, given the past and the history.”

A lot of people on Facebook and other social media sites are expressed are the opinions similar to Orr’s, while some African-Americans expressed skepticism about a black man. Derrick Simmons said that he has spoken to Greenville residents who were surprised with an Afro-American has been sued in the church burning.

“I think people across racial lines about the general, but do not expect that the person responsible for this act, the racial composition of Mr. McClinton,” Derrick Simmons said.

The officials have not yet revealed what led to McClinton’s arrest. Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who is also the state fire marshal, says the researchers do not believe that the fire and vandalism were politically motivated, despite happening a week before the controversial presidential elections.

Greenville is one of the Mississippi River port city and center of trade in the cotton-growing delta. Approximately 78 percent of 32,100 residents are African-American.

The cemetery was founded in 1905 in the heart of an African-American neighbourhood, and the municipality now has around 200 members. Some of the walls of the beige brick church survived the fire, but the remains of the structure have been recently demolished. The reconstruction could take months.

Since the fire, at the Cemetery members his worship in the chapel at First Baptist Church of Greenville, a predominantly white church that says that the Cemetery can stay as long as it needs a home.

James Nichols, senior pastor of the First Baptist, said Thursday that he tried to get in contact with the Cemetery, Bishop Clarence Green since McClinton’s arrest. The two ministers say that they consider themselves brothers in Christ, and Nichols said that it is important that people are not in divisive speculation about the reason why someone would have burned at the Cemetery. He said that the justice department will determine whether McClinton was responsible.

“A church is deeply hurt and injured,” said Nichols of the arrest. “This is just the peel that scab right off and make it rough again.” He called for prayer for everyone.

Greenville is in Washington County, a traditional Democratic stronghold in a solidly Republican state. In the Nov. 8 presidential election, Republican Donald Trump, easily carried Mississippi, but Democrat Hillary Clinton received more than twice the votes of the Trumpet, in Washington County.

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