A nearly $16 million East Baltimore community center and apartment complex under construction were burned to the ground Monday night during riots that engulfed the Maryland city following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died while in police custody earlier this month.
The community center and apartments were part of a project initiated by the Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, which is located across the street. The church's pastor, Rev. Donte Hickman Sr., remains optimistic in the face of the massive fire that was witnessed by at least 60 congregants.
"We're going to rebuild. We're going to come back strong from this," said Hickman, who believes rioters are to blame for burning down the building that was to provide housing for senior citizens.
"Obviously, it's one of the results of tonight," he told CNN Monday evening. "The chaos that we're seeing all over Baltimore. I sought to help organize pastors across town to march for peace tonight and little did I know that someone who was insensitive to what the church and the community was doing here set the place on fire."
No one was in the building at the time of the blaze. The rioting has already led to 235 arrests, 144 vehicle fires and 19 structure fires, according to CNN.
The $16 million community center, partially funded by money from Baltimore City, was expected to house roughly 60 low-income senior citizens in individual apartments and was to include a community center built by housing developer The Woda Group. The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development granted $200,000 last year toward the center and general improvement of the surrounding area.
Mayoral spokesman Kevin Harris said he believes the fire was related to the riots and Baltimore's deputy fire chief stated that the department is 99 percent sure the two are linked.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake visited the site of the fire on Tuesday and spoke with Hickman, CBS reports.
Several Christian leaders throughout various parts of the United States, including Meeke Addison, American Family Association's director of Urban Family Talk, have spoken out against the violence in Baltimore that has led to the burning down of establishments that would have been beneficial to the community.
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"When you look at burning down those things that are meant to be assets to a community, those things that are meant to build-up a community, it's clearly counterproductive," said Addison to The Christian Post.
Addison believes the rioting is a result of "generations of poverty" that have led to a misguided society desiring something more and acting out in ways that lead to the destruction of buildings such as this center.
"This does not make the case [for people who say] 'I've been disenfranchised.' Anybody watching this would take a step back and say 'I don't feel endeared to these people, my heart doesn't ache for these people.' Rather what you would say is: 'I'm appalled, I am outraged and I'm disgusted,'" she said.
"The aim is to say black boys are dying at the hands of police officers. They're using excessive force. They're abusing their badge. Well the way to conjure up sympathy and to elicit the kind of response to move your cause is not to tear down the same neighborhoods that those black boys live in."
Alex McFarland, director for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at the Christian Worldview Center of North Greenville University, believes the rioting is a result of "misguided rage" in the community.
"For the citizens of the community to destroy a [senior] center that would benefit and better the community is so illogical and irrational and it's very tragic," McFarland told CP.
"What has really paved the way for this — and I don't minimize some of the frustrations that minorities might have — but what has paved the way for this is that we are a culture that has abandoned beliefs in natural law or the Ten Commandments."
McFarland blames the public school system and the moral relativism which pervades today's society that has led to the absence of right and wrong in the minds of people who are now taking the law into their own hands by looting and destroying property.
"We shouldn't be surprised when people behave as if it's an amoral world because that's what the government, the schools, the gay agenda and a complicit secular media have told them," he said.
Dr. Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Commission, is "grieved" by the recent riots.
"It grieves me that so long after the civil rights movements of the '60s we are continuing to see scenes like this in American cities," said Land, who's also the executive editor of CP. "It shows sort of a hopelessness, almost nihilism on the part of a lot of African-American youth that they would engage in what is such clearly self-destructive behavior. Burning down businesses that employ black people. They burn down a community center that is there the serve the community."
Land agrees with McFarland in stating that the looting and rioting is illogical and attributes the actions to
"rage" and "hopelessness" within the community. The looters' rage stems from several issues, including the lack of respect from police, and the belief that they are being "warehoused" by society and not looked at for the potential that they have, according to Land.
He also criticized the local schools which he said are being run by the teachers unions "to the benefits of the teachers more than to the benefits of the students," and would agree with McFarland in saying that morality is not being taught.
And even though he disagrees with actions taken by some of the rioting youth, he asserted that there is "clearly" a problem with policing in the U.S. that needs to be addressed.