3 reasons we still aren’t talking about the war on black churches

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BY SARAH HARVARD

While millions of Americans celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states, there is also reason to mourn, as the black community once again is under siege. 

This past week, a string of alleged arson attacks were made against six churches with predominantly black congregations in four Southern states, according to reports. These arsons come approximately one week after white supremacist Dylann Roof confessed to shooting and killing nine churchgoers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 

On Monday, June 22, the College Hills Seventh Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee was set on fire early in the morning, according to local news affiliate WATE 6. The following day in Macon, Georgia, God’s Power Church of Christ was on fire. And on Wednesday, June 24, Charlotte, North Carolina’s Briar Creek Baptist Church was ablaze, resulting in nearly $250,000 in damages, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

That the same Wednesday, Fruitland Presbyterian Church, a historically black church dating back to the 1800s in Gibson County, Tennessee, also caught on fire. Then came fires at the Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Florida and College Heights Baptist Church in Elyria, Ohio

These blazes come at a suspicious time, as we’re currently reexamining the state of race relations in the United States. As a result of the attack in Charleston, there’s also growing public pressure to reconsider the Confederate flag’s place above government buildings, in the American marketplace, and in public spaces. 

But there’s one thing that’s certain: There hasn’t been enough media coverage of these alleged arson attacks. And while there is no reason that could justify this lack of coverage, here are three possible explanations as to how this story got overlooked. 

1) These fires at black churches are still under investigation

The investigations on the string of alleged arson attacks are still ongoing, and it would make sense for media organizations to withhold from commenting on these supposed attacks until they receive further information. 

However, not having the full story never stopped cable news programs from covering alleged attacks and tragedies as they break, nor does a lack of information prevent media from speculating on the party responsible for such case. (Remember the initially horrifying coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing?)

For centuries, churches have been a centerpiece and stronghold for black communities. Attacks on churches predate the Civil War and have continued until present day. In fact, in the late 1990s, then-President Bill Clinton issued a task force investigating church-arson cases, leaving behind an astounding 827 open investigation before the task force’s termination.

How do we, as a nation, address these attacks on black churches and prevent them from happening again? For starters, we can recognize each and every arson attack and keep the conversation going.

2) The SCOTUS decision to legalize same-sex marriage took up most of the airtime

What’s interesting about the copious amount of coverage on the big win for gay marriage is the lack of discussion when it comes to persons of color in the LGBTQ community. Just days before, President Obama made headlines for silencing an undocumented transgender woman for interrupting his speech on behalf of the numerous deportation and injustices made against her community. 

Still, within the LGBTQ community, black individuals face their own challenges and some of the sentiments echoed by the community is whether the momentum stops right here. Will people of color in the LGBTQ community receive the same level of support, now that the biggest hurdle for gay rights has been tackled successfully?

Considering how the voices of people of color in the LGBTQ community are not often heard, it makes sense as to why these six churches that were allegedly burned down had a lack of media coverage: The distraught and frustration within the black community is still not heard.

3) There’s no victim to blame 

The names Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray have become household names. Immediately after news broke of their deaths, the Internet began digging up dirt on the victims. 

The word “thug” was reserved for Michael Brown and the protesters that unleashed their fury on the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. Instead of condemning NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for not loosening his grip when Garner shouted “I can’t breathe,” some political pundits chose to highlight that Garner might have been selling cigarettes illegally. Rather than focusing the fact that Freddie Gray died in the hands of several police officers, the story too often became about his arrest record. Like Michael Brown, we were reminded that he was “no angel.” 

These victims of police brutality further had their character assassinated after their death. The story of the alleged string of arson attacks on black churches likely isn’t getting as much coverage as it deserves because there are no victims on which to shift our blame.

The historical significance of black churches in the South is far too important to be ignored. It’s time the Internet starts talking about it.

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Sarah Harvard is a reporter on politics and world issues. Harvard covers Islam, relations between the U.S. and countries in the Middle East, identity politics, and elections. Harvard serves as the unofficial public defender for Kanye and Kim Kardashian West on the Internet, and does a great impression of Kathy Griffin. She’s written for Bustle, Slate, Huffington Post Politics, and Al-Jazeera English.

Photo via Spencer Means/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed