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Arson At Baptist Church In North Carolina May Be A Hate-Related Crime

CREDIT: CHARLOTTE FIRE DEPARTMENT
CREDIT: CHARLOTTE FIRE DEPARTMENT

A fire reported Wednesday morning at a Baptist church in North Carolina has been identified as an intentional event, according to fire department officials.

The fire, which was quickly identified as arson, was discovered in the early hours of Wednesday morning at Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. No one was in the building at the time of the blaze. An investigation into the cause of the fire has been launched, and will look into the possibility of the event being a hate-related crime.

According to WBTV in Charlotte, Briar Creek Baptist Church includes roughly 85 members, many of whom are black. Briar Creek also shares a campus with two or three other churches, which have largely international congregations.

Members of the church have expressed hope that the fire wasn’t hate-motivated, but recent hate crimes at churches — including last week’s shooting in Charleston, South Carolina — contribute to a heightened level of concern. “With everything going on, it certainly didn’t surprise me,” said Bob Lowman, director of the Metrolina Baptist Association, of which Briar Creek Baptist Church is a member.

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Wednesday’s fire is the most recent in a spike in attacks on houses of worship throughout the country. Many of the affected church congregations have strong ties to the black community and have been historically involved in promoting social and race equality.

News of the shooting at historical Emanuel A.M.E. Church in North Carolina shook the nation last Wednesday as photos of 21-year-old accused shooter Dylann Roof and the nine shooting victims appeared in the media, triggering a nationwide discussion about race relations and hate-motivated violence. The following evening, shots were fired into St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee during a choir practice. No injuries have been reported in connection to this event and no suspects have been publicly identified.

These recent attacks mark one of the most significant surge in public violence against historically black Christian communities in the U.S. since the 1990s. However, violence towards religious establishments have stained national news coverage on a far too regular basis. Such instances include the shootings at a synagogue and Jewish retirement community in Kansas last spring, and the shooting at a mosque in Coachella, California last November.

In light of recent attacks, churches across the country are looking into developing on-site security measures or reinforcing those already in place. In New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio increased police presence last Sunday around the city’s places of worship as an extra percausion against copycat attacks.

The effort was appreciated, but some religious leaders in the city believe security precautions should have a more permanent presence near houses of worship.

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“We evaluate evacuation procedures in times of tragedies and get help from professionals to how to be able to discern something that may not look right, [but] it’s difficult in a church because churches are filled with people who are hurting,” said Rev. Henry Allen Belin III of First A.M.E Church: Bethel in Harlem in a statement to the Village Voice. “Security procedures will have to be sharpened and evaluated. We have to pray we don’t become extreme in how you evaluate that.”

Katelyn Harrop is an intern with ThinkProgress.