BELLEVUE, Wash. - Police are investigating after members of an Eastside church say they were victims of a hate crime.
Members of East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue were standing on the corner of Factoria Boulevard Southeast and Southeast 36th Street holding "Black Lives Matter" signs.
They stand on the corner every Sunday morning, but on April 24 they say a man threw a sign with a racist message on it at them. They reported the incident to the Bellevue Police Department.
Two weeks later, the "Black Lives Matter, Join the Discussion" sign outside the church was slashed. The word "Black"' was cut out.
"It shattered any sort of illusion there's no racism here," said Rev. Elaine Peresluha. "Our members of color felt personally attacked and it was just such a blatant act of violence, racially motivated, a hate crime."
Bellevue police are investigating the hate crime. The incident was caught on a traffic camera, but when police zoomed in on the white Ford F-120 single cab truck, they were unable to see the license plate. Evidence technicians will check the sign for fingerprints.
In February, the "Black Lives Matter" sign at Bellevue's First Congregational Church was vandalized, then stolen. Police are investigating if the incidents are connected.
"Because we don't know who this person is or what his motivation is, it's hard to try and guess what his intentions might be in the future," said Capt. Carl Kleinknecht, Bellevue Police Department. "There is an impression of Bellevue being a safe city and impressions of being accepting of all walks of life and diversities. When an incident like this occurs, it creates doubt in the minds of citizens and they become fearful for their safety. So it's our job to try and reduce that fear in them and assist them in any way we can."
The church quickly replaced the damaged sign. It had originally purchased two signs, just in case.
The church is using the crime as an opportunity to increase the discussion about racism in the community. When the man threw the derogatory sign at the group on Factoria, there were eighth- and ninth-graders holding signs.
"We all saw it as an opportunity to engage the youth. Yes, racism is alive and well even on the "enlightened" Eastside," said Aisha Hauser, the director of religious education at East Shore Unitarian Church.
"The person didn't win," said Rev. Peresluha, "because what they've done is expose the racism. They've galvanized our work with police and other community members to fight this."
On Sunday, President Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, will speak at the church about the opportunity to end racism and violence.
Police recommended that church members who plan to hold the "Black Lives Matter" signs along Factoria consider having their cellphones ready or use a GoPro camera, in case there's another incident.
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