Officials gather to discuss recent hate crimes against several South Jersey places of worship

Faith leaders and officials in Atlantic County gathered on Wednesday to address the safety of places of worship after several crimes against churches and synagogues across New Jersey have been reported since the beginning of the year. 

The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office hosted a packed room full of members of all faiths at Stockton University to address hate crimes that they say are typically committed by homegrown, violent extremists with a racial or religious motivation. 

"We are God-fearing people, and we allow people to come in and feel at home, but nowadays, you gotta watch," said Perry Mays, Deacon of the Holy Trinity Assembly of Living God in Mays Landing.

For the last 30 years, Mays has been the Deacon of his church, but he says only in the last 10 years did safety at places of worship become a concern to him. 

"You can't tell who is who when they come into your church," said Mays. "If we don't know, we stand the chance of getting somebody hurt."


Mays is also the chairman of the Coalition for Safe Communities in Atlantic, Cape May, and Salem County. The coalition organized Wednesday night's discussion, which comes after two incidents took place just last weekend in New Jersey. 

On Sunday, officials say a person wearing a ski mask threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Bloomsfield. Police say a similar incident happened the day before at an African American church in Asbury Park. 

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Man wanted for throwing Molotov cocktail at New Jersey synagogue

The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security is investigating these incidents as hate crimes after they say the masked individual yelled "white lives matter" while throwing the Molotov cocktails.

"An individual went to this gathering and threw smoke bombs, left, came back and pepper sprayed members of the interfaith community while yelling out ‘white lives matter,'" said Ehtasham Chaudhry of the Office of Homeland Security. "It's not just the Jewish community, not just the Christian community, or the African American community, or the Muslim community, the Sikh community, it's everyone."

Last month, authorities say they also investigated crimes against churches in Camden and Gloucester counties. With the rise in crimes against places of worship, community leaders initiated a forum to discuss the myriad of resources available to assist faith leaders if an incident occurs. 

The forum gave resources like grants for human security, surveillance equipment, and free security assessments at places of worship with the goal of protecting people of all faiths, in all communities.