"Churches are burning again in the United States, and the symbolism of that is powerful." So writes Emma Green at the Atlantic after at least five mostly black churches went up in flames over the past week following the Charleston church massacre. Investigators say the blaze that badly burnt God's Power Church of Christ in Macon, Ga., was not caused by likely problems such as electrical malfunction, and WBTV reports that a fire at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, has already been ruled arson. The pastor there, Mannix Kinsey, says he forgives the arsonist and hopes it won't be deemed a hate crime: "Just the climate," he says. "We all have to consider what else ... we need to do to actually be able to work together."
Among other church fires, mostly in southern states, local and federal officers are looking blazes in Warrenville, South Carolina, and Knoxville, Tenn. Green notes that arson cases increased at black American churches in the mid-to-late 20th century, but reporting standards today make it harder to track more recent church arsons. Marking a blaze a hate crime is harder still, says a staffer at the National Fire Protection Association, because then "you either have to know who did it or they have to leave you a message in some way that makes it very obvious. There are an awful lot ... that are not hate crimes—they’re run-of-the-mill kids doing stupid things." Indeed, investigators at the Macon fire have already deemed it arson but say there's no evidence of a hate crime, the AP reports.