POLITICS OF HATE: DISCUSSION WITH DEVAL PATRICK AND REV. MAC CHARLES JONES
Arsonists in the South have destroyed up to 32 African America churches over 18 months, causing the federal government and the church community to call for rigorous action against racial violence. Elizabeth Farnsworth presents a background report, followed by a discussion with Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Deval Patrick, and Kansas City minister, Rev. Mac Charles Jones.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now for more on the burnings, we turn to two people from that report. Deval Patrick, head of the federal investigation, is assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights, and Rev. Mac Charles Jones of St. Stephen's Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, heads the delegation brought by the National Council of Churches, Pastors & Civil Rights Leaders in Washington to meet with the administration. Thank you both for being with us. Mr. Patrick, there have been some convictions over the past couple of years in these cases. Tell us who's been convicted and what it tells us about who is behind these burnings.
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DEVAL PATRICK, Assistant Attorney General: Well, we have solved now about 20 of the, of the matters we've had under investigation for most of the last five years. That's been with a combination of successful federal successful state convictions. There are a number of other arrests pending conviction. Not all have pointed in the direction of racial hostility but clearly most have, and that is the thrust of the national investigation, considering the evidence that points in the direction of civil rights violations, and even if they don't rise to the level of civil rights violations, the level of racial animus and hatred, which seems to be driving so many of these crimes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Specifically, tell us what you found in the convictions so far that leads you to believe that this is definitely racially motivated.
MR. PATRICK: Well, in a couple of the cases the defendants, the perpetrators have admitted their racist motivation for these crimes, have said that their intention was to strike at the spirit and the soul of the black community. I think that is absolutely undeniable evidence, evidence that has to be faced and has been faced by the investigation. We also consider both with respect to the cases we have solved and those that are still under investigation the extent to which there may be a legal conspiracy or other less legalistic ways in which these fires are connected, one to the next.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But so far you have no evidence of a wider conspiracy in the legal sense?
MR. PATRICK: Well, actually, that is not a statement I have made. What I have said is that because these matters, so many of them are under active investigation right now, no one is prepared for nor is it proper for any of us to make an announcement about whether there is or is not a conspiracy. I can tell you, however, that we are very actively pursuing those kinds of leads in that dimension of this case. That's an important part of this investigation, and we intend to get to the bottom of it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rev. Jones, you, the National Council of Churches is also pursuing an investigation. You've been to the sites. First of all, how many churches do you think are involved?
REV. MAC CHARLES JONES, National Council of Churches: According to our sources--and we use the Center for Democratic Renewal as an investigative part of our team--umm, we have, we see at least 80 churches since 1990.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why is that number different from--I mean, there are many numbers that are given by different groups investigating this. Are these churches--some just weren't reported?
REV. JONES: Well, I think some may not have been reported to the federal level because cases may have been closed so that it never got to the federal level. And I think you get about two or three floating lists. One of the things that I think was good about the meetings this weekend was to begin to exchange some of that information so that we can begin to talk about, as Deval talks about, the same universe because we have more than they have. And that's a problem.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In that 87, are you including vandalism, as well as burning?
REV. JONES: Yes, we are because the vandalism adds to the whole issue for us of conspiracy. In most cases of vandalism, it is not just vandalism. Hammonds Grove Church in South Carolina, North Augusta, the vandalism included swastikas on the walls, KKK written on the wall, all kinds of things, $21,000 by the way worth of vandalism, and there were clear signs of groups being connected.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you say that you're now kind of looking at the same universe. Mr. Patrick, does that mean that--are you investigating some of these to add to your list?
MR. PATRICK: Well, it's, it's very clear to us that we need to be focusing on the real scope of this problem. We have been investigating the matters that have been reported to the federal authority, and that's our job. If the National Council of Churches, the Center for Democratic Renewal, or any other citizen or citizens group, has additional information about other incidents, umm, whether they appear on their face to be connected or not, we need to know about that. That needs to be in the scope of a complete investigation. The folks who came to see us, I would add, are responsible citizens, people who are contributing members of this society, central members of their communities, and they have demanded the best of the national government, and that's exactly what they deserve and exactly what we intend to give them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rev. Jones, you don't see these as random incidents?
REV. JONES: No. Umm, the Center for Constitutional Rights was a part of--with the Center for Democratic Renewal and National Council early on in 1982 or 3, were part of the Chattanooga case where five black women were shot down in the streets, and there we saw the same kind of pieces that we're seeing now. And that too was a Klan group. We've seen it historically. Those in communities can operate at a whole different level. We don't have to worry so much about legalities when we see stuff. We want to make sure the officials understand what they're seeing the same way it points that we understand what we're seeing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you seeing similarities in the modus operandi?
REV. JONES: Similar language, Satan rules.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Satan rules written on walls?
REV. JONES: That's right. That's right. Certain graffiti that has similarities, the patterns in terms of times of night, cowardly acts against very vulnerable people. Recently, the escalation, as it's moving more toward urban areas and--I mean, what we believe is that there is a climate in this country that is racially hostile. It is a climate that feeds this kind of activity, and all of them may not be connected, but all of them are the product of that climate, and I believe most of them are connected.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Patrick, first of all, on the question of modus operandi, do you see similarities?
MR. PATRICK: We do in certain respects, the kinds that Dr. Jones has referred to, that's for sure. I won't get into matters of the subject of active investigation, but we're clearly looking at that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Describe the difficulties of dealing with arson cases. I know that there have not been a lot of arrests compared to the number of, of cases that you're confronted with. Why?
MR. PATRICK: Well, for one thing, all arson investigations are difficult because the evidence burns. That's the very first thing, so agents are literally sifting through ash for clues. Also, there is a tremendous amount of foot work that has to be done--interviews of people in the community about what may on some levels seem innocent activities, but which may, in fact, connect up as genuine leads and ultimately evidence. These are slow investigations in the best of circumstances. We are trying by devoting the kinds of resources we have to speeding them up because we have a lot of motivations for that, primarily having to do with the, with the kind of impact, the devastating impact that these kinds of crimes have in these communities.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Give us a sense of the size of the investigation. We've heard that there are 200 agents involved. Compare this to other investigations like this.
MR. PATRICK: Well, that's right. There are upwards of 200 federal investigators active on these investigations full-time. That is the largest civil rights investigation going on now and one of the two or three largest federal civil rights--excuse me, criminal investigations of any kind going on right now. We are looking at the question of whether we have enough resources even with that commitment and whether we can deploy resources that are involved in other priorities right now on this investigation or make a request to Congress for some additional resources. I would add that the federal investigators are working very closely with state and local investigators of about that equal number in different parts of the--in different parts of the country. There's a lot of person power being developed and being devoted to this, and if it takes more to solve these crimes and solve them expeditiously, the President has made a commitment to add additional resources, and that message has been heard by, by the cabinet and certainly by myself.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Reverend, you visited, I believe, almost all of the states--
REV. JONES: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: --that have had fires, right?
REV. JONES: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think of the investigation?
REV. JONES: Well, it has been helpful to have these meetings because one of the complaints had been that the investigations tended to target the pastors as opposed to targeting these other lines of inquiry, white supremacist groups in particular.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Before you go on, just briefly explain that. What do you mean by that?
REV. JONES: Well, pastors felt harassed. They felt instead of being asked questions that would lead to something happening for them, that they had themselves become the suspects. I think it was framed very well by one person who said, you know, when the questions are asked, it needs to be a sense that you are working for them to make sure that the victim has whatever grievance--the burning of the church, the loss of such a vital institution resolved, and that has not been. I think that we're trying to work through that. Today's meetings were helpful. As we always say, the proof is in the pudding. Over these next days, we hope to see a difference in the way communities hear these questions and these investigations because I think the agents hopefully will function differently.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that, Mr. Patrick?
MR. PATRICK: Well, I think we heard a lot of specific complaints and issues raised about the, about the methods in the investigations. I think we made it plain that the commitment is serious and sensitive at the top, and we made it clear that we understand our responsibility to make sure that it is serious and sensitive throughout the ranks of the team that's working on this. We also know, as I think, as I think Dr. Jones and the delegation do, and people in communities, that we need cooperation and the trust of the community in order to solve these crimes.
We also appreciate that we have to earn that trust. And those of us who have done this kind of work before coming to the federal government know that federal agents do have a certain amount of baggage that they bring to bear when they come to certain kinds of communities, particularly black communities in the South. That has to be addressed, and we intend to address it. We're taking some steps within the next few days to do so, and we intend to remain vigilant on this point so that we, as I said, earn the trust of the community and through that, the cooperation of the community so that we can get to the bottom of these crimes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Rev. Jones, finally, why black churches? What do they represent that they've been such a target? And of course, historically they've been a target.
REV. JONES: Black churches have been the center of all community life. It is there that not only babies are blessed and weddings are had and funerals are taken care of but it is there where folk who have been hungry have been able to find food, where single mothers knew that their was a male there who acted as a father, a parent with her in the raising of that child, where kinships were. It is the place where movements have started, where civil rights movements, prophetic voices have emerged, where music has leaped forth. It is the place where both hope and joy and power for living in spite of the humiliation and devastation of life in a country that racism has pervaded since our very beginning, it is there that all of that has come to bear. So when you talk about attacking this community, you're talking about attacking the heart and soul of this community. And when you do that with any religious community in this country, that's really what you're getting at.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Reverend, Mr. Patrick, thank you for being with us.