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Suspect arrested for burning of Racine community policing house

Posted at 7:14 PM, Jun 02, 2020

RACINE — Racine police said they made an arrest Tuesday in connection to the arson fire of the Thelma Orr Community Policing House. They expect to make more arrests in the coming days.

Chief Art Howell didn’t release the name of the person arrested, but said they’re an adult and not from the City of Racine.

Martin DeFatte tried to hold back tears as he stood outside the Orr house. It’s a place that means so much to him. He was the city’s first community policing officer.

Now the building sits at 12th and Villa Street covered in ash.

“This is very, very close to my heart,” DeFatte said. “This thing really, really burns me, something fierce that an outsider would come and do this to this place.”

Police said it was intentionally set on fire early Monday morning after a day of peaceful protests about the death of George Floyd.

Mayor Cory Mason addressed the situation at a press conference where the arrest was announced.

“I think the fact that the person who did this is not from here is an indication of what happens when people from outside of the community come in to try to cause mischief,” Mason said.

The house is named after Thelma Orr, a woman who in the 70s and 80s helped recruit African Americans to the Racine Police Department, including the chief.

“She was able to move mountains in this community without striking one match, just with her 5’1” frame and her resolve and her integrity and commitment to changing this community,” Howell said.

Orr’s granddaughter, Julia Jones thanked the investigators for their hard work on the case. She said if her grandmother were still here today, that she would want to take advantage of what happened to educate the community.

“She believed in accountability so she of course would say that you have to suffer the consequences for your actions but at the same time learn something,” Jones said. “So hopefully something will be learned from this incident and a very valuable lesson.”

As the department continues to connect with the community, they’ll make sure to keep Orr’s legacy alive, now more than ever.

Ernest Ni’a, the pastor of Orr’s church, said it all comes down to working together.

“We can’t eliminate all of the police officers but we can reform, we can change and we can change it in the spirit of Thelma Orr,” Pastor Ni’a said.

A motive remains under investigation. Charges could come as soon as Wednesday.

No decisions have been made on the future of the house, but police believe they will be able to restore it. The house is one of six community policing houses in the city owned by the Racine Community Outpost, a nonprofit organization that supports community policing efforts.

For the second night, the City of Racine will have a curfew from 10 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m. Wednesday. City leaders urge protests be peaceful.

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