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In One State, Black Churches Are Going Up in Flames

Federal and Louisiana authorities call it 'suspicious'
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2019 12:15 PM CDT
Firefighters and fire investigators respond to a fire at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church Thursday, April 4, 2019, in Opelousas, La.   (Leslie Westbrook/The Advocate via AP)
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(Newser) – Black churches are catching fire in Louisiana, and it doesn't look like a coincidence. The FBI and other federal agents have joined state investigators after four black churches caught fire in less than two weeks, the New York Times. Three from the same parish north of Lafayette were suspicious, officials say, and the fourth, about a three-hour drive away, was intentionally set. "There is clearly something happening in this community," says State Fire Marshal H. Browning. The first three occurred in rural St. Landry Parish from March 26 to April 2, and the fourth was in Caddo Parish on Thursday; all but one church was baptist, per ABC News. At least two churches were gutted, but no one was injured because the buildings were unoccupied.

"All the work that’s been put into that and the history that it has … it was heartbreaking," Rev. Gerald Toussaint of the fourth church, Mount Pleasant Baptist, tells the Advocate. "[But] you can't destroy the church because the church is in the people, not the building." The fires recall racist attacks in Southern churches dating back to the 1950s, including a white supremacist's mass killing of nine people at a South Carolina church in 2015, but authorities warn this probe could take months as they send samples to labs and talk to possible witnesses. They're also warning whoever is behind it: "For the people responsible ... let us help you through this process, don't make us hunt you down, because we will," says Browning, per CBS News. (Read more arson stories.)

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