Police are investigating as possible hate crimes the destruction of Black Lives Matter signs at churches in Washington during violent pro-Donald Trump demonstrations Saturday, officials announced Sunday.
Someone tore down banners supporting the anti-racism movement from at least three churches Saturday night as thousands of maskless “Stop the Steal” protesters marched through the nation’s capital, falsely claiming that the election was stolen from Trump.
The Metropolitan Police Department said Sunday that it’s “aware of these incidents” and encouraged anyone with information to call 202-727-9099 or text 50411.
“We take these offenses seriously, and we are currently investigating them as a possible hate crimes,” the department said in a statement to HuffPost.
The pro-Trump demonstrations, which included members of the Proud Boys far-right extremist group, turned violent when proponents clashed with counterprotesters in the streets, resulting in at least four people being stabbed.
More than 100 city police officers were deployed into the crowd, with some using chemical spray as they attempted to separate people, The Washington Post reported. Police arrested 33 people during the overnight unrest, the department said.
Pro-Trump demonstrators tore down a Black Lives Matter sign and set it on fire at Asbury United Methodist Church, the oldest Black church in Washington that still sits on its original site, church officials said Sunday.
Rallygoers that night also reportedly tore down Black Lives Matter signs at nearby Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church and Luther Place Memorial Church.
“We are a resilient people who have trusted in God through slavery and the Underground Railroad, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, and now we face an apparent rise in white supremacy,” the Rev. Ianther M. Mills, a senior pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church, said in a statement Sunday.
The destruction on Saturday was “reminiscent of cross burnings,” Mills said.
“Sadly, we must point out that if this was a marauding group of men of color going through the streets, and destroying property, they would have been followed and arrested,” Mills said in his statement. “We are especially alarmed that this violence is not being denounced at the highest levels of our nation and instead the leaders of this movement are being invited to the White House.”
“Stop the Steal” protests erupted Saturday in several cities across the country, including Atlanta and St. Paul, Minnesota. At least one person was shot during clashes between Trump supporters and counterprotesters in Olympia, Washington.
Trump appeared to encourage the demonstrations, which were fueled by his relentless peddling of misinformation and lies about the election.
“MOST CORRUPT ELECTION IN U.S. HISTORY!” Trump tweeted Sunday.
The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about the violence that unfolded during Saturday’s unrest.
Election officials nationwide, including several Republicans, have declared the elections this year fair and devoid of widespread irregularities. Nonetheless, Trump and his allies have continued to falsely claim the process was “rigged.”
Democrats and some Republican lawmakers have urged Trump to concede and stop his divisive rhetoric, warning that his comments could lead to violence.
“It has to stop,” Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and the voting implementation manager in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, said in a news conference on Dec. 1. “Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language.”
“Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence,” Sterling added. “Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.”
*story by HuffPost