Louisiana authorities are suspicious after three black churches were set on fire in the last ten days, with “suspicious elements” found at the scenes suggesting a possible connection between the incidents.
…Mount Pleasant became the third predominantly black church to burn down in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish in the span of 10 days, setting local residents on edge. On March 26, flames reduced St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre to just a few walls and piles of rubble. And on April 2, a blaze struck the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas.
Authorities have not determined a cause for the fires or established a connection, but they are being treated as crime scenes. State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said at a Thursday news conference that “we believe that these there fires are suspicious,” adding that fire officials have identified “patterns” but declined to provide details. Multiple possibilities, including arson, were being investigated. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI were assisting with the case, he said.
“There is clearly something happening in this community,” Browning said in a statement on Thursday. “That’s why it’s imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is.”
For some, the recent fires recall a dark history of attacks and threats against black churches in the South. During Reconstruction and the civil rights movement, black churches were targeted with fires, bombings and threats.
In 2015, a white-supremacist gunman opened fire on a prayer group at the Emanuel AME Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine black people. Nearly 200 years before, Emanuel AME’s predecessor had been burned down in 1822 by Charleston’s white leaders, who feared an insurrection by the city’s enslaved residents.
The investigation is still ongoing, but the writing seems to be on the wall here. That said, no one has been charged as a suspect. No one has been injured, either, thankfully. But I doubt anyone in the community will rest easy until these attacks end. Everyone should have the right to worship (or not) in safety. Whatever the cause, the fear is that this isn’t over yet.
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