Police in St. Louis have stepped up patrols after six churches in predominantly black neighborhoods were set on fire this month.
As St. Louis Public Radio has reported, the cases, which are being investigated by local and federal authorities, are being treated as arson. St. Louis Public Radio reports that the fires have been started when the churches are empty and when the "arsonist lit exterior doors on fire."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Anti-Defamation League suggested a racial motive may be at play. In a prepared statement, the ACLU of Missouri's executive director, Jeffrey Mittman, called the fires "domestic terrorism."
"It is a sad truth that, throughout our nation's history, African-Americans often have been met with astounding violence when they demand equality," he wrote. "Those who commit this violence seek to instill fear. This is why arson against predominantly black churches has been a frequent tool of white supremacy."
But Dotson said investigators have yet to confirm that race was the motive. If race or religion proves to be the reason, he said, police will seek to have the incidents prosecuted as hate crimes.
KPLR-TV reports that authorities are offering a $4,000 reward for information that leads to the suspects.
The station adds:
In statements Tuesday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster condemned the recent church fires in north St. Louis City and County.
Nixon said, "These cowardly acts of violence against places of worship are deeply troubling. Houses of worship must be safe havens where people can come together in faith and fellowship – not the targets of hate and violence. The Missouri State Highway Patrol has been in contact with local and federal authorities and is ready to assist in the investigation of these crimes."
Koster said, "A house of worship should be a place of peace and refuge. These targeted acts of arson strike at the heart of St. Louis by attacking its sanctuaries. The perpetrators must be found and brought to justice."