4/23/2014

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Police investigate possible hate crimes at historic black church

Police investigate possible hate crimes at historic black church

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — In his 30-plus years as a pastor, and the last nine at Cain Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Timothy Coston has never had a fire at any church.

All that changed recently.

"To have two fires in one week makes no sense at all," said Coston.

The first fire broke out in the morning hours of Sept. 9.

Someone set a wooden storage shed behind the church on fire, and the flames burned along a back wall of the church.

Bakersfield firefighters contained the damage to the rear of the church, and no one was hurt.

One week later, on Monday, another fire erupted at the church.

This time, someone set the contents of a trash dumpster, located behind the church, on fire. Flames scorched part of the rear of the building.

But, Coston found something else. Adding insult to injury, racist graffiti was left at two locations on church property. One hate-filled message read, "N------ go home" and had a swastika next to it. The other message, a few feet away, also contained a swastika and had the letters "KKK."

"For someone to put 'KKK' on the side of your wall, that means 'I hate you.' And, we're about love," said the pastor.

Cain Memorial AME is a historic black church in Bakersfield. It was organized in 1880 and moved to its' current location on California Avenue and R Street in 1954.

It was in the same church that Coston married his wife Johnette more than 50 years ago. Its congregation has also become diverse, attracting Latino and white worshipers, said Coston.

"We like that, because we think that's the way it should be," said the pastor about the congregation's diversity. "I really think that's the way heaven is going to be."

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the fires and racist graffiti happened during the week when the nation observes another historic event at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Four young girls, all under 15, were killed while attending church by a bomb planted by a white supremacist. That infamous event happened on Sept. 15, 1963. That fact was not lost at Cain Memorial AME.

"I just feel sorry for whoever this is that has so much hate in their heart that they have to go around and harm churches," said Johnette Coston.

Bakersfield police are investigating the fires as a possible hate crime. Anyone with information about the case is urged to call Detective James Moore at (661) 326-3540.

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