Non-Racists Indicted for Burning Black Church on Election Day

The indictments came down in the Massachusetts arson attack on a black church, an attack that happened the night Barack Obama was elected President. But neighbors and family are insisting the young perps are not racist. I suppose it is all an accident or something.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I know that headline seems odd, so let’s start from the beginning. That might better help you understand. Benjamin Haskell, Michael Jacques, And Thomas Gleason were indicted a couple days ago for setting fire to an African American church on election night in Springfield, MA. The indictment came from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and while one might wonder why the indictment didn’t happen sooner, it is somewhat comforting that this indictment has now gone forward. Here’s the report from the DOJ press release:

Benjamin Haskell, 22, Michael Jacques, 24, and Thomas Gleason, 21, all of Springfield, Mass., were arrested early this morning on a civil rights violation, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker; U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan; Glenn N. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – Boston Field Division; Warren T. Bamford, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – Boston Field Office; Colonel Mark Delaney, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police; William Bennett, Hampden County District Attorney; and Commissioner William J. Fitchet of the Springfield Police Department.

“Today’s arrests demonstrate the Department of Justice’s unwavering commitment to enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws,” Becker said. “Racial violence tears at the fabric of our great nation and will not be tolerated.”

In documents unsealed today, the government alleged that in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, Haskel, Jacques and Gleason engaged in a conspiracy to burn and succeeded at burning the Macedonia Church of God in Christ’s building, a newly constructed building where religious services were to be held for a predominantly African American congregation. The building was 75 percent completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed the entire structure, leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact. Investigators determined the fire to be incendiary in nature and caused by an unknown quantity of gasoline applied to the exterior and interior of the building.

Haskel, Jacques and Gleason have been arrested and charged in a complaint with conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate the parishioners of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in the free exercise or enjoyment of their rights as secured in the Constitution and laws of the United States.

“We will not tolerate those who victimize others,” said U.S. Attorney Sullivan. “Racism has devastating effects on individuals, and stifles the quality of life in the community. I am angered and saddened that the neighborhood has endured such cruel acts by those living in the same community.”

“This crime has caused a great deal of physical and emotional harm. It is a crime against our entire community. All of us have been injured. All of us are hurt, but we are also resolved to hold those responsible accountable,” said District Attorney Bennett.

Non-Racists? Did I really write that in the headline up there? In the usual news piece where a local paper, this time the aptly named Springfield Republican, interviews the neighbors and friends of the lowly perps, several of those interviewed testify that Haskell, Jacques and Gleason are not racists. Here’s a bit of that testimony, from the Springfield Republican:

In the week since a collection of federal, state, and city law enforcement officers arrested Gleason, Haskell, and Jacques, relatives and friends expressed shock and dismay that the young men could be involved.

Michael McDonald, Haskell’s father, said vehemently that his son is innocent.

“He is a good kid, and he didn’t do it,” McDonald said. “Come on. He was not raised like that.”

The authorities are portraying the incident as “a racist thing,” McDonald said. His son, he added, “has black friends and listens to rap music.”

Gleason’s father, Thomas A. Gleason, also disputed that his son could commit a hate crime based on either race or religion.

“As far as we are concerned, he is innocent,” he said. “He was home when this happened, as far as I know.”

The elder Gleason said he raised his son as a Christian.

“He doesn’t have an enemy in the world, as far as I know. He has a heart the size of Texas.”

He noted that, along with Cullins, three of his son’s eight friends who attended a Wednesday detention hearing are black.

“A heart the size of Texas,” eh? Is there an implication there that there is no racism in Texas, or that these boys, raised as Christians couldn’t possibly be racists? I suppose the father of Thomas Gleason thinks there was a case of mistaken identity or something. Or that it was all an accident caused when his son was carrying a can of gasoline through the church, like he was taking a shortcut or something back to his car. Yeah, that’s it! Heck, if it was a church with white members Thomas Gleason would have accidently torched it as well, I suppose.

No, we are not yet in a post-racial world, folks.

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

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