Who Is Setting Fire to Black Churches in St. Louis?

Written by Aimee Kuvadia

Someone is setting fire to black churches again, this time in St. Louis.

In 10 days, five houses of worship, located in predominantly black areas of St. Louis County and St. Louis, have been set ablaze, with the latest fire having occurred Saturday morning at the New Life Missionary Baptist Church in the northern part of the city, VICE News reports.

“The building was charred from the door all the way across the left side and up to the roof,” said Pastor David Briggs, who arrived on the scene to firefighters, and the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives already investigating.

No one has been wounded in the fires, which have managed to cause only minor damage, St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson told NBC News.

These blazes have not been officially deemed a result of arson, but “it is arson,” St. Louis Fire Captain Garon Mosby told Fox2Now. “These are being intentionally set. This is not spontaneous combustion, so they are not occurring on their own.”

The latest fire was “the work of a spiritually sick individual,” said Briggs, who was “extremely disappointed” to see his church in flames.

“I haven’t really had an opportunity to assess how we’re going to address the damage yet, we’re really just trying to make it through today an hour at a time,” he said. “Although the sanctuary wasn’t burned, we can’t use it — the chemical and smoke scent inside the church is just so strong that it’s unbearable.”

The ATF, St. Louis Regional Bomb and Arson Unit, local police and fire departments are reportedly inspecting the sites of five fires to find whether there is indeed a connection. Since in each of the incidents, it was the front doors of the church set ablaze, it’s very likely there is.

“We’ve got similarities in how the fires are set, which is what we’re looking at,” said Jenkerson, noting that the blazes haven’t targeted specific types of churches — they vary in both size and denomination — and have been set at different times of day.

Roderick Burton, pastor of New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, which also was set fire to last Saturday, says he believes the incidents are linked, but is skeptical they’re racially motivated.

“Some people surmise this was racial, but typically before something like this happens, we get an email or call,” he said. “We had no idea this was going to happen.”

Following the fire at his church, Burton observed the people who should have reached out to offer support, namely the mayor and neighboring places of worship, didn’t.

He said:

“One thing I am disappointed about is I haven’t heard anything from the rest of the faith community in terms of solidarity. St. Louis is a racially divided city. If I was a white pastor, I would be more intentional about reaching out to a black church and being like, ‘Hey, we’re with you, we’re not for this.’ I haven’t heard anything.

“After all we went through regarding Ferguson, to me, any type of violence, it should be addressed from the top.

The fires in St. Louis are the latest manifestation of an disturbing trend.

In June, seven black churches were set fire to in the South all within the same week, ostensibly a product of the racially motivated murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.

Investigators concluded that the blazes weren’t connected, and that several were started by accident. But some wonder if it truly is a coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan became particularly active in the region following the tragedy in Charleston.

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, thinks the timing is too curious to be an accident. He surmises the arsons were aimed at destroying the symbol of black independence.

He noted, “In American history, to almost every significant social advance, there has been a backlash — often accompanied by a hell of a lot of violence.”

This post originally appeared on RYOT

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

42 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

I see most are blaming the KKK. Did y'all know that it was Democrats who form the KKK? Also the first blacks in Congress were Republican. Men like Fredrick Douglas have fascinating biographies. I think it's a shame that while we have a black man in the White House, that race relations are at their worst in decades. Obama could have done so much to improve the plight of young black men and race relations but he chose not to do it. Instead, he concentrated on things like ObamaCare, etc.

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Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y2 years ago

Obviously racially motivated if you know anything about American history. Sometimes in the past the KKKlan has threatened and sent notes, but there's no playbook that says they have to. And many people are racist, violent bigots without any help from the Klan.

It's very likely the statements by officials of 'no connection here' are deliberate red herrings in order not to affect active investigations. I mean, you'd have to be completely ignorant of events in this country for the last 50 years to think these things aren't connected.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Give you one guess!! Starts with a "K" and ends with a "K!"

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Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege2 years ago

This is horrible and ... shameful.

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Govannon Thunorwulf
Brian Schrader2 years ago

Anytime there is "significant social advance," there is always massive violence. Not just in the US, everywhere. It is because most people don't want change, no matter how bad things get. They often think we can just patch them up and they will good as new. Part of progress is destruction.

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Roberto MARINI
Roberto M2 years ago

it is horrible that people set fire to churches.

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Geez...let's see. the KKK, perhaps? Thanks for sharing!

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Mind your own business, V (too cowardly to give your whole name!? LOL!).

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