The Daytona Beach Police Department may have been the target of anti-police backlash early Sunday morning when someone firebombed an unoccupied squad car parked in front of a mosque and left a note near the destroyed vehicle attributing the act to Black Lives Matter.
According to Police Chief Mike Chitwood, the incident took place about 2 a.m. That’s when someone set fire to the cruiser parked outside the Islamic Center at 347 S. Keech St. The vehicle was engulfed in flames and destroyed.
Chitwood said police found a note at the scene that read “Black Lives Matter A. Sterling P. Castile (Expletive removed) the police.”
It was not yet clear exactly what was used to burn the vehicle, but Chitwood said he assumes the culprits used a Molotov cocktail. He said the firebombing caused more than $20,000 in damage to the vehicle.
Imam Belal Alzuhiry Shemman, the Islamic Center’s religious leader, could not be reached.
One resident who lives in the area and asked not to be identified said via email that by the time fire units arrived the car was already in flames.
“We were in bed and I heard a ‘boom’ noise. It sounded like a window being broken and I thought it could be someone trying to break into my boyfriend’s car. So I looked out the window and didn’t see anyone near his car then I looked left and saw the police car was on fire,” the person wrote. “The police car has been parked there since the Orlando shootings.
They move it every now and then but it’s always empty. My boyfriend called 911 and it took so long before they got there that by the time they did the entire car was covered in fire. It took a bit to get the fire out.”
Chitwood said the police department began stationing the vehicle outside the Islamic Center periodically last month on June 12, the day of the Orlando nightclub shooting, to protect it against anti-Islamic backlash in the wake of the massacre that killed 49. The gunman, Omar Mateen, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Since then, friction between police and minority communities have resurfaced and garnered headlines across the nation. Alton Sterling, a black man who was selling CDs outside a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, convenience store was shot and killed during an encounter with two white police officers July 5. One day later, a white officer shot dead Philando Castile, a black man, during a traffic stop in a St. Paul, Minnesota suburb.
The next night, a gunman disgruntled by the officer-involved shootings killed five Dallas police officers and wounded nine others during a protest against police brutality. Sunday morning, just hours after the Daytona police cruiser was firebombed, another gunman opened fire on police and deputies in Baton Rouge, killing three officers and wounding three.
Chitwood said those responsible would likely face arson charges as well as damage to a police vehicle if apprehended.
Despite the sign implicating the Black Lives Matter organization, Chitwood said he had not yet concluded that the firebombing was the actual work of anti-police protesters. Police are investigating the incident and there are no suspects or persons of interests, but detectives are reviewing surveillance video in the area, he said.
“I really do believe in my heart of hearts that we have a really great rapport with our community overall.
They know that if there’s a problem, they can come and talk to us,” Chitwood said. “But there is a radical, small percentage that I think is trying to drive a wedge between all of us.
“If you notice what’s going on in America today, it’s like they’re taking a page out of ISIS. Find the disenfranchised folks that don’t want to fix things the right way, and have them be fanatical in their attacks. And it’s sad. Certainly not the world I want my grandkids to grow up in.”