Georgia Teen Girl Arrested for Plotting ‘Detailed’ Attack on Black Church

A 16-year-old white girl in Georgia is in custody after plotting to attack Bethel AME Church, which has a predominantly Black congregation. Gainesville Police said they arrested the girl on November 15 after Gainesville High School administrators informed resource officers of the plan.

A student at the high school heard the girl speak about the alleged threat and told a school administrator, Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish told reporters, according to CNN. Administrators confirmed the threat following a preliminary investigation and notified Gainesville Police, who placed the teen under arrest.

The girl, who authorities say had been planning the attack for weeks, allegedly targeted the church due to the racial demographic of church members, police said in a statement. Authorities notified the church “to ensure the safety of our community and the current threat was under control.”

Parrish told reporters that he believed the teen wanted to receive some “notoriety” for pulling off such a crime.

“This is an active investigation and a prime example of how strong relationships between the student body, school administration, and law enforcement can intercept a potentially horrific incident,” the police chief said in a statement.

It is unclear how the girl planned to carry out the alleged attack, but police noted that she collected knives. She allegedly visited the Black church on November 13 to kill those inside, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but no one there, despite Bible studies typically being held Wednesday nights.

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who is presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the church was not surprised about the incident.

“Hate crimes and domestic terrorism have been on the rise for many years, but it is unfortunate we cannot have this perpetrator prosecuted on hate crimes in Georgia because there is no law on the books to address it,” Jackson told the newspaper.

The teen, who has not been identified, was charged with criminal attempt to commit murder and was taken to the Regional Youth Detention Center in Gainesville.

Why It Matters

Recent studies by non-profit organizations and the FBI have shown that hate crimes have been on a steady rise in the U.S. On November 12, the FBI stated that hate crimes hit a 16-year high in 2018. The agency’s report noted that there were more than 7,000 incidents of hate crimes nationwide. Crimes against property dropped, the report revealed, but physical attacks against people rose in 2018 — making up 61 percent of the 7,120 incidents of hate crimes.

Data provided by the FBI shows that anti-Black incidents accounted for 1,943 crimes last year. Hate crimes against Latinx people reported in 2018 showed a slight increase from the previous year, from 430 in 2017 to 485 in 2018.

Despite rising numbers of hate crimes, four states — Georgia, South Carolina, Wyoming and Arkansas — do not have any hate crime laws on their books.

Allison Padilla-Goodman, the southeastern regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said in a statement toThe North Star that the ADL applauded Gainesville Police for stopping a potentially deadly incident of “hate-motivated violence at a house of worship,” but noted that the incident underscores the need for a hate crime law in the state.

“It’s high time for [Georgia] to stand up against bigotry and bias by enacting a hate crime law,” Padilla-Goodman said.

The incident in Georgia also mirrors the case of Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who brutally massacred nine African American congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Roof was found guilty of 33 counts in connection to the mass shooting and was sentenced to death by a federal jury in 2017.

A report released by Violence Project, and funded by the Justice Department, found that mass shooters share four characteristics: experience with childhood trauma, a personal crisis or specific grievance, a “script” or examples that validate their feelings and access to a firearm, Vice reported. It is unclear if the juvenile arrested in Georgia shared any of these characteristics.

Why Doesn’t Georgia Have a Hate Crime Law?

In 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned a 2000 hate crime law because it was “unconstitutionally vague” and too broad, according to The Associated Press(AP). Bills to add a hate crime law failed to pass forward in the state’s last two legislative sessions.

Hate crimes laws would provide stricter sentences for certain bias-related crimes. States across the country have passed hate crime laws since the 1980s, but each state’s version is different, the AP noted. For example, 15 states with a hate crime law that do not explicitly protect people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2009, President Barack Obama passed an expansion of the federal hate crimes statute that protects both groups.

Hate Crimes By The Numbers (FBI)

  • 59.6 percent of victims targeted for single-biased hate crimes in 2018 were targeted because of the offenders’ bias against their race, ethnicity or ancestry.

  • 18.7 percent of victims were targeted due to their religion.

  • 25.7 percent of hate crimes occurred in or near residences or homes.

  • 3.7 percent of hate crimes happened at churches/synagogues/temples/mosques

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia, Australia and the Americas.