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Black Churches are Burning: Is It the 1990’s All Over Again?

For many Americans, news reporting that at least seven predominantly black churches have been destroyed by fire since the horrific murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last month feels like “déjà vu all over again.”

We remember all too well the daily images of burning churches on the nightly news in the late 1990s. I was involved in extensive research on the phenomenon at the time, so in many ways I feel as if I’m watching reruns of old news reels.

Still, can this be the beginning of another wave of racist violence targeting the spiritual homes of African-American Christians?

On June 30, a seventh church fire, at 100-year-old Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, S.C., was a devastating repeat of history. In 1995, two members of the Ku Klux Klan burnt Mt. Zion to the ground almost exactly 20 years ago to the day of last month’s blaze.

Once again Mt. Zion has been reduced to ashes, but the FBI says the likely cause of last month’s fire there was a lightning strike, not hatred. Intuitively, the smoke smells like a hate crime, a violent act meant to intimidate the African-American population. But is it?

At the outset, the obvious needs to be stated: not all church fires are crimes motivated by racial hatred. Many are accidental, whether faulty wiring or a lightning strike. It takes a lot to move a fire from “suspicious origins” to “intentional,” and therefore arson.

It is even harder to prove that an arson is a hate crime.

Read On

Article Originally published here by Religion Dispatches.

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