Someone’s going around burning black churches in St. Louis like nobody’s business

Six predominantly black churches in the St. Louis area have been set on fire in the last ten days. All of the arsons have taken place when the churches were empty, but the racial background of the churches suggests a clear message of intimidation and racism.

From St. Louis Public Radio:

“You hate to see some type of pattern,” said Rev. Rodrick Burton, the pastor at New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, on the city/county border. His was the third church hit. “I just came from one of the churches, and they’re going to have to do major repairs. It’s scary, because after what happened in Charleston, there were six churches burned to the ground. I certainly don’t want to hear about anyone’s churches being completely leveled.”

The fires have all been set within a few miles of each other, and they have all been set just south of Ferguson, a town whose name has become synonymous with racial tension in the last year:

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Authorities so far have not come close to finding the arsonist, but they do believe that the fires are being set in order to “send a message.” They also do not believe that the arsonist is done. In a joint statement, the St. Louis Fire Department, Police Department and ATF said that “It is only a matter of time before someone is injured or harmed as a result of this fire-setting activity.” The Anti-Defamation League, in their statement, expressed “grave concern” for the pattern but was not ready to assign a racial motive.

Church arson, screenshot via YouTube

Church arson, screenshot via YouTube

But given the historical background, it’s hard to argue that these attacks are anything other than an attempt to intimidate the black community in greater St. Louis. After all, setting fire to predominantly black churches is such a common occurrence in this country that we actually have a law specifically addressing it — the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996. That law expanded the jurisdiction and penalties for setting fire to a church, and was passed on the grounds that, as Assistant Attorney General Andrew Fois wrote at the time of the bill’s passage, “We also continue to be confronted with acts of violence, targeting places of worship and cemeteries, such as drive-by-shootings, desecrations and vandalism. In many instances, these acts of violence appear to be motivated not only by hatred of members of the houses of worship because of their exercise of their religion, but also because of their race or ethnicity.”

But sure, tell us more about how racism is dead in America.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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