Why Are Black Churches Burning In St. Louis?

by
Jessica Renae Buxbaum
On Thursday morning a seventh church was set ablaze in St. Louis, Missouri, as law enforcement officials continue to investigate a “very disturbing” series of fires.

On Thursday morning a seventh church was set ablaze in St. Louis, Missouri, as law enforcement officials continue to investigate a “very disturbing” series of fires affecting predominantly Black churches since October 8.

Thursday’s fire at the Shrine of St. Joseph was started at around 1:35am. No individuals were inside and no injuries were reported. Unlike the latest string of alleged arsons that have targeted mostly Black churches, St. Joseph is actually a majority white church (yet in an African-American neighborhood). Every church attacked thus far is located within a few miles of each other near the town of Ferguson, Missouri — what officials have deemed “a disturbing pattern.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who is investigating the incidents with the St. Louis Police Department, said in a statement“We believe that this fire-setting activity is meant to send a message,” yet they did not specify what that message was.

Officials have made little headway in the two-week-long investigation.

“We really don’t have any solid information above motive,” St Louis police chief Sam Dotson told press. “We don’t have any real solid information about suspects.”

Dotson said it is too early to know why these churches are being targeted, but Fire Captain Garon Mosby told ABC News that investigating the fires as possible hate crimes stemming from religious or racial reasons is not being ruled out.

“The African-American church has been under attack from white supremacists since the early 19th century, attacked again and again to hold black people down,” Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the St. Louis Dispatch.

Recommended: This Is How American Muslims Are Helping Rebuild Burned Black Churches

Black churches have been plagued by terrorism since the beginning of slavery and most notably during the Civil Rights Era in the 1950s and 1960s. A slew of Black churches burned this summer after the racially-motivated terrorist shooting in a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. These attacks are often by white supremacists in an effort to threaten Black communities. Black churches are typically the hub of social life and civic engagement, specifically where social movements ignite.

What is most disheartening to see is the lack of media attention these alleged arson attacks have gained.

Little uproar has emerged, with press and social media getting riled over other news instead.

“People should be standing up and saying, ‘Hey I’m with you,’” Revered Rodrick Burton, the pastor of an attacked churches, told The Washington Post. “I’ve been surprised at the apathetic response. To me, it’s very telling, very disappointing.”

Instead outrage is sparse and investigation remains stagnant while Black communities continue to face persecution and fear.

Read more: Why Wasn’t This White Supremacist Charged With A Hate Crime?

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