St. Louis, MO, October 19, 2015 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today expressed grave concern about the continuing rash of fires set at predominantly African-American churches in North St. Louis City and North St. Louis County, and commends the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police and St. Louis County Police Department Bomb Squads for their continuing and vigorous investigation. Since October 8, five fires have occurred, at Bethel Non-Denominational Church, New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, St. Augustine Catholic Church, the New Testament Church of Christ, and the last at the New Life Missionary Baptist Church.

While no racial motive has yet been established, the fear and intimidation in the African-American community is substantial and must be validated.  ADL raised similar concern this past July with a series of arsons occurring in the South after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  “Similar to the succession of church arsons in the 1990s that created the National Church Arson Task Force, these St. Louis fires should weigh heavily on the entire community,” said regional director Karen Aroesty.  As ADL wrote to the Department of Justice this past summer, “They remind us of Night Riders, cross burnings, and Ku Klux Klan terror that was centered on Black churches.”

Aroesty added, “We are thankful that, to date, no clergy or congregant has been injured. Should investigation result in a finding that racism and/or any bias played a role in these arsons, we anticipate that forceful prosecution will follow under the Church Arson Prevention Act and any relevant state statutes.”  ADL has reached out to local Houses of Worship, understanding the necessary balance for vigilance while being an inclusive, warm, and welcoming space.

In August, ADL announced the formation of a new campaign to improve legal response to hate crimes across the US. 50 States Against Hate: An Initiative for Stronger Hate Crime Laws will work toward passage of hate crime laws in the five states which do not have them – Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming – while seeking to make existing hate crime laws in the other 45 states more inclusive and comprehensive.

The Anti-Defamation League is the world’s leading organization fighting hate, bias and bigotry.

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