Black Institutions Ask Congress to Help Pay for Security Amid Violent Threats
WASHINGTON — Rev. Eric Manning invoked the dead of the July 17, 2015, massacre at a church in Charleston, S.C., as he testified to Congress Thursday about threats to African American institutions.
He read the names of the nine victims who were shot to death during a Bible study by a white supremacist at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“I have to do it,” Dylann Roof reportedly said as he shot the church members. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
He later was convicted on 33 criminal counts and sentenced to death.
“It left an undeniable stain on all of our hearts,” said Manning, the senior pastor at Mother Emanuel AME Church.
Since then, the clergy hired off-duty security guards and installed surveillance cameras at the 205-year-old church.
The House Homeland Security Committee is trying to determine how much more security is needed to protect African American churches, schools and other institutions and who pays for it.
Part of the answer came from Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday. She announced that the federal government’s Project School Emergency Response to Violence program would offer short-term funding for schools faced with violent threats.
She was referring most specifically to historically Black colleges or universities, which have seen an upsurge in racist threats in recent years.
One of them is Howard University in Washington, D.C., which has endured four bomb threats so far this year. Harris is a graduate of Howard University.
Grants from Project SERV typically range from $50,000 to $150,000 per school. The money is most often used to buy security equipment or for mental health services.
In addition, the Homeland Security Committee is considering proposals to expand the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program. Grants under the program fund security and other physical enhancements of nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of violent attack.
They can include African American churches and schools.
“Our response must be swift and serious,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies public policy foundation has tracked an increase in extremist domestic violence since 2015. It blames the increase on discontent with illegal immigration, growing minority political influence, social media that allows extremists to organize and dissatisfaction with government.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates there have been 57 bomb threats to historically Black colleges and churches this year. None resulted in an explosion.
Thompson said the violence is nothing new in U.S. history, only occurring at a higher rate in recent years.
He was joined in the condemnations by Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., who said, “Inherently evil acts of violence continue to exist in many forms.”
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., asked whether the COVID-19 pandemic might have contributed to the violence. He cited a 30% increase in homicides in 2020, apparently aggravated by an economic downturn and mental health strife.
Witnesses from nonprofit organizations said they lacked the resources to handle security threats by themselves.
Thomas K. Hudson, president of Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, estimated his university needs $10 million to adequately improve its security. The university is a historically Black university.
“We have been routinely underfunded for years,” Hudson said.
He advised a proactive approach to security rather than waiting for a disaster that finally spurs officials into action.
“We cannot afford to be reactionary,” Hudson said.
Janai Nelson, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said, “Racism is our greatest threat to national security.”
Tom can be reached at email@example.com
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