Pastor Decries Attempted Arson, Criticizes Berkeley Official Response

Becky O'Malley with Kelly Hammargren
Thursday July 30, 2020 - 06:05:00 PM

Pastor Michael McBride of The Way Christian Church was joined this morning by his brother Pastor Ben McBride and about 200 political and religious leaders in a press conference which spotlighted an apparent hate crime, an attempt to burn down the historically Black University Avenue church, which took place in the early hours of July 29. The meeting was Zoomed so that additional viewers could attend virtually, including this reporter.

Pastor McBride leads the LIVE FREE gun violence prevention campaign and co-founded the Black Church PAC He and his congregation have been active in the Black Lives Matter movement--the church had just put up a BLM banner over the front door. He recently spoke at a Berkeley City Council meeting about defunding the police.

Attendees at the gathering in the church parking lot could see the scorched place where trash cans had been ignited about 1:30 a.m. A neighbor, identified by Pastor McBride as a Mr. Gonzales, saw a shadowy figure who appeared to be pouring some flammable liquid into the cans before lighting them, and he called 911.

The fire was quickly extinguished by first responders, but the church officials complained that they were not promptly notified by city authorities. Police simply slipped a paper notice under the front door of the church, where it was not found by church members until the next morning.

Former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport also spoke from the impromptu podium. Two other African-American political leaders were present,Councilmembers Ben Bartlett and Cheryl Davila.

Pastor McBride commented with some annoyance that he hadn’t received even a phone call from other civic officials who were not present, neither elected (Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin) nor employed (the city manager and the police chief.)  

Other clergy joined the press conference, including a rabbi from Kehila Synagogue and the pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland.