“It’s just a visceral feeling, like a punch to the stomach,” said a local community member, about the vandalism.
Forty leaders of various faiths signed an open letter this week condemning the vandalism of a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Tacoma, Washington and disavowing the motivations behind it.
“This incident occurs amidst rising national tides of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant bigotry, a context that makes it critical that we invite all people to rise up against any use of faith to inspire violence and hate,” the statement reads.
The letter was released Monday, five days after a Tacoma man, named Jereme Clarke, destroyed a statue at the Chùa Phước Huệ Vietnamese Buddhist Meditation Center.
The incident was caught on video. In the video, Clarke walks up the front steps and calls the temple members “devil worshippers.” When no one responds, he knocks over a statue that represents the guardian of the temple, hand carved in Vietnam and worth thousands of dollars. Then he gets in his car and leaves.
11 Alive, a local news outlet, reports that Clarke tried to pull down a support beam with his car before the camera holder started recording.
The letter condemns Clarke’s actions, particularly that he invoked his Christian faith as reasoning for his “racist and anti-Buddhist attack.” The letter goes on to offer condolences and support to members of the vandalized temple.
The authors pay special attention to the regrets of Christian leaders, specifying that they “reject [Clarke’s] beliefs and his action as un-Christian and antithetical to the faith as we understand it.”
The letter calls on residents of the area to commit to establishing a welcoming atmosphere for everyone, regardless of faith or culture, and hold a standard that does not accept “hate crimes such as this.” Then, the letter addresses Christians and Christian leaders, asking clergy to be aware of how their words might inspire others.
Renee Meschi, who works with the Pierce County Conservation District and signed the letter, is close with members of the temple and spoke to 11 Alive on their behalf. Members chose not to reveal their identity for fear of being targeted.
“It’s just a visceral feeling,” she said. “Like a punch to the stomach.”
Meschi said members of the temple felt hurt and confused about Clarke’s reaction. They were unsure if the broader community shared his feelings as the temple has been the victim of other crimes in the past.
One pastor, David Wright, chaplain at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, is putting pressure on authorities to recognize Clarke’s actions as a hate crime, he told local news outlet, King 5, yesterday. Wright specified that it’s not the punishment that motivates him, but saying “this is what it is and how do we help people realize the harm that causes.”
Read the full letter below: