President and CEO of the NAACP Derrick Johnson called the recent burnings of black churches in Tennessee and Louisiana “domestic terrorism.” Some pastors have reportedly started sleeping in their houses of worship to fend off would-be arsonists.
“What is happening in Tennessee and Louisiana is domestic terrorism and we must not turn a blind eye to any incident where people are targeted because of the color of their skin or their faith. The spike in church burnings in Southern states is a reflection of the emboldened racial rhetoric and tension spreading across the country. But this is nothing new,” Johnson began in a statement Monday.
“For decades, African-American churches have served as the epicenter of survival and a symbol of hope for many in the African-American community. As a consequence, these houses of faith have historically been the targets of violence. The NAACP stands vigilant to ensure that authorities conduct full investigations."
The FBI and other local law enforcement agencies in Louisiana are now seeking to find out why Mount Pleasant Baptist Church became the third historically black church over 100 years old to burn down in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, in a span of 10 days last week. St. Mary’s Baptist Church was the first reported church fire on March 26 and Greater Union Baptist Church went up in flames a week later, NBC News reported.
A local Louisiana official, who did not provide specifics about the ongoing investigation, told CNN that the fires had been intentionally set and some pastors in south-central Louisiana's Cajun and Creole Country have been sleeping in their churches to fend off other possible arson attempts.
"I feel our district was being targeted because all three of the churches were in our district," Pastor Freddie Jack, the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association president, told CNN's Don Lemon on Monday.
"At first we thought it might have been an electrical problem, but then when the second church ... burning occurred I realized it was our sister church. ... Then two days later the third occurred so at least [to] me, [it] made me think that we're being targeted."
A fourth but smaller fire that erupted on March 31 at the predominantly white Vivian United Pentecostal Church in Caddo Parish, more than 200 miles north of St. Landry, is also being investigated.
Julius Alsandor, mayor of Opelousas, which is 75% black, told CNN the church burnings are "hideous."
"The relevance and the impact on the people in the surrounding communities and especially the congregation of each of these churches, it's hurtful and there may be some fear that is being exhibited by those who are a part of the three churches," he said.
“We don't know why, we don't know when, we don't know who," the Rev. Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church told CNN affiliate KATC. "We will let the authorities handle that, but we just know a higher power and a higher authority who can bring this thing to fruition."