Six black churches have burned in seven days in five Southern U.S. states and that has social media asking #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches?
Three are being investigated as arson and investigators are eyeing lightning in the latest blaze on Tuesday at Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, which was burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan two decades ago.
“It’s not unreasonable to suspect that what we’re seeing [now] is a backlash to the taking down of the Confederate flag, the determination of our country to face its racial problems,” said Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, the tide has turned against the flag, a symbol for many of the South’s racist, Ku Klux Klan past.
Many Southerners, including some of the flag’s most fervent supporters on local and national stages say it is time to take it down. The flag’s supporters are furious.
Federal and local law enforcement officials in the five states — Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina have cautioned against a rush to judgment as they investigate.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are both looking into the fires.
“ATF has special agents and certified fire investigators (CFIs) from several field divisions investigating the fires to determine cause and origin. We are in the early stages of these investigations, but at this time we have no reason to believe these fires are racially motivated or related,” the ATF said on its Facebook page.
The FBI said Wednesday that Tuesday’s blaze at Mount Zion AME looks to be lightning-related. CNN reported that its weather experts have determined there were four lightning strikes around the time the church, now a brick shell, erupted in flames.
Still, a New York minister who went to the church Wednesday, is suspicious.
“I don’t believe God is striking down black churches by lightning or every electrical problem is right now just happening,” Pastor Dimas Salaberrios of the Infinity Bible Church in the Bronx told CBS. “I believe we have to look at this is in a very suspicious way.”
The NAACP is also urging black congregations to be vigilant.
Here is the latest on the probes on the other five black churches:
Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church, Tallahassee, Florida
The church was destroyed on June 26, and an electrical short looks to be the cause, officials have said.
Glover Grove Baptist Church, South Carolina
Arson has been ruled out in the June 26 fire at the church in Warrenville, South Carolina, Captain Eric Abdullah of the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, told Reuters.
College Hill Seventh Day Adventist, Knoxville, Tennessee
Bags of dirt and bales of hay were set on fire outside the doors of the church on June 21, and a van was torched. “We’re treating it as arson, but this was more vandalism than anything,” Captain D.J. Corcoran of the Knoxville Fire Department told Reuters.
Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, South Carolina
The church fire on June 24 was deliberately set; the house of worship has both black and Nepalese members.
God’s Power Church of Christ, Macon, Georgia
The church was destroyed by fire on June 23 and it appears to have been deliberately set, Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore has said.
In some reports, a seventh church is included, the Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson, Tenn. The church is a white congregation, locals say. And the fire there was tied to a lightning strike.
John A. Oswald is editor-at-large at Metro and can be found on twitter@nyc_oz.
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