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Anti-church burning group urges more involvement
People can do more, Gainesville reverend says at Homeland Security meeting in DC
Meg Nivens, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Vision 2030 executive director, plans a website design with Lance Compton, Red Clay Interactive president and CEO Thursday morning at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce offices.

Homeland security is more about "hometown security," the Rev. Rose Johnson-Mackey of Gainesville discovered in a trip to Washington.

In a public session held earlier this week by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council, the executive director of the National Coalition for Burned Churches said she also learned the "importance of the faith community to become more involved in encouraging public participation in reducing security threats."

"A lot of times, communities depend on law enforcement to assume the entire burden of keep our communities safe, when ... people in general can do more to help ... by being more diligent in reporting suspicious behavior," Johnson-Mackey said.

The meeting's purpose was to provide an update on the federal department's national "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign.

The program is aimed at raising public awareness of indicators of terrorism, crime and other threats. It also stresses the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper authorities.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano provided a brief update of the program at the public session.

"I didn't get a chance to meet her at the time, but the dialogues we did have with the senior staff and consultants were very helpful in terms of the work we have to do here," Johnson-Mackey said.

The coalition started in 1997 to support the victims of arson and help rebuild churches for under insured congregations in rural areas.

The group was founded in response to a rash of church burnings that took place across the country in
the mid-1990s.

The issue gained national attention in 1996, when President Bill Clinton formed the National Church Arson Task Force to coordinate federal, state and local law enforcement efforts against such crimes.

The coalition, which moved from Charleston, S.C., to Gainesville in 2008, is part of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

"It was through that partnership that we were invited to participate in the public session and as part of our work in terms of our increasing education and awareness about church arson and bombing activity," said Johnson-Mackey, a Gainesville native.

The advisory council comprises experts from state, local and tribal governments, emergency and first-responder agencies and others.

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