Local News

Church Fires Fewer

Posted June 9, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Church fires are down and arrests of arsonists are up. That's according to a report a Federal task force released Sunday. In the past two and a half years, nearly 200 sus pects have been arrested in 150 church burnings.

President Clinton formed the task force because the rash of fires seemed to target many black churches, although black churches were not the majority of those set on fire.

In many instances, the motive for the blaze was arson rather than racism. But no matter the motive, the churches' congregations were stunned and saddened, and in many instances had to dig deep to pay for rebuilding.

As the reports of church burnings grew, so did the call for action, especially on the part of the federal government. It was answered with a national church arson task force. To date, 199 suspects have been rounded up in connection with 150 church fires.

Rev. Frank White said he is glad the president took the initiative to form the task force to check into the problems. White and his congregation raised money to rebuild several of the burned churches. White says despite the negative nature of these crimes something positive happened, in that people came together.

Since the arson task force began a year ago, there have been more than 400 investigations into arsons and bombings of churches. And Congress has passed legislation doubling the penalty for burning churches.