In the week following the racist massacre that killed nine people at Charleston, S.C.’s Emanuel AME Church, six predominantly black churches across the South have burned. At least three of those fires have since been attributed to arson. The Southern Poverty Law Center says these fires “may not be a coincidence.” Are they hate crimes?
That certainly doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. It’s a loaded time in the South, especially because, as the Daily Beast notes, S.C. has been recently “embroiled in a debate over flying the Confederate flag.” (On Saturday, Black Lives Matter activist Bree Newsome made headlines and drew cheers when she climbed a flagpole and took down the Confederate flag outside the South Carolina Statehouse. She was jailed, but released on $3,000 bond.)
The first church fire happened on June 21 when someone lit up bales of hay near College Hill Seventh Day Adventist church. Though that fire was determined to be an arson, “officials don’t believe it was a hate crime,” per the Daily Beast.
But since then, the fires have only been increasing. On Friday, it was Glover Grove Baptist Church in Warrenville, S.C., and NPR reports that the pastor said he’d frequently seen “KKK” written on the outside of the building.
On June 23, it was another arson in a Macon, Ga., church that “gutted most of the building” (that church had also reportedly been burglarized twice in recent weeks). There was a fire in a Charlotte church the next day, and investigators are examining others in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, and Ohio.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are now working with local police on the ground. Though none of the fires have been officially ruled hate crimes yet, the blazes are stirring fears on a local and national level. And for good reason: they’re only serving to add another layer of pain to an already traumatized community.
Predominantly African-American churches have been targets of racist attacks for decades. The massacre at Emanuel AME was believed to be the deadliest attack on a black church since the Klan’s 1963 Birmingham, Alabama church bombing that killed four little girls.
It’d be nice to think America had evolved enough for these types of crimes to be things of the past, but the rampage at Emanuel AME only proved — tragically — that white America still has a long, long way to go.
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