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Deputy's son charged in destruction of black churches

by Bridgette Babb - Copy Editor
Tue, Apr 23rd 2019 10:30 pm
The Devil is real Holden Matthews set fire to three historically black churches in Louisiana. The three churches were the St. Mary Baptist church in Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist church in Opelousas and the Mount Pleasent Baptist church also in Opelousas.
The Devil is real Holden Matthews set fire to three historically black churches in Louisiana. The three churches were the St. Mary Baptist church in Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist church in Opelousas and the Mount Pleasent Baptist church also in Opelousas.

The church has been a pinnacle of the black community for many decades. It is a place where people struggling can find strength and surround themselves with a supportive group of people. A Louisiana man took that safety blanket away after setting intentional fires to three churches in southern Louisiana. 

The perpetrator, 21-year-old Holden Matthews, was charged with hate crimes by arson. According to NBC News, Matthews, who is the son of a deputy sheriff, pleaded not guilty on Monday, April 15. He was not granted any bail and the upcoming trial has been set for some time in               September 2019.

 Though he had no prior record, officials like Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning felt he may flee, due to his police connections. 

“We felt that he was an immediate risk to public safety,” Browning stated in court. “In my mind, I felt another fire was imminent.”

Though Matthews has been charged with committing hate crimes, he has currently not mentioned the reason to why he did the acts. The New York Times also reported that these ideas may not have come straight from Matthews at all. “Black Metal,” which is a genre of heavy metal music that tends to have violent lyrics, is the suspected trigger for his actions. Matthews was part of a black metal band called Vodka Vultures. This type of music has allegedly been linked to other arson crimes, but nothing has yet to be confirmed. 

The first church to be incinerated was St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26. Greater Union Baptist Church was attacked on April 2, followed by Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the small city of Opelousas on April 4. 

President of the association and the pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Ville Platte, Louisiana, Freddie Jack spoke about the intense damage each building went through.

“Let me say it like this: The only building that had any sign of any furniture remaining was Mount Pleasant,” said Jack. “St. Mary and Greater Union, all you see is charcoal. It’s a total, complete loss at all three sites.”

 The Associated Press stated that “the fires were started with gasoline and the churches were empty when they were set aflame.” Browning was also able to tie Matthews to the hate crime with his own phone records and photographs he took himself. 

The New York Times reported the three churches have been around for centuries and are the spiritual sanctuary for many black families in times of crisis. This act of blatant hate shines a light on the long history of black churches and hate crimes in the United States. 

During the times of segregation, the black community looked to the church as a form of relief from daily burdens. A person could be themselves while listening to the Lord’s word to provide strength. 

News outlets were frantic after the famous Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames on April 15. Prior to that, donations to rebuild the three U.S. churches were nowhere near the $100,000 goal the pastors set. Due to Notre Dame being a historic church, donations for it to be rebuilt came in almost immediately. 

Vox stated that “three of France’s richest families pledged to donate more than $500 million to efforts to rebuild the Cathedral.” There was even talk of the Donald Trump administration lending a hand, which is interesting because he never addressed the Louisiana church rebuild budget. 

Activists, politicians and civilians alike took to Twitter to bring awareness to the Louisiana budget, telling people not to forget that we need help in our own country. 

Journalist Yashar Ali tweeted, “The rebuild of Notre Dame will be well funded. In the past month, three historically black churches in Louisiana were destroyed by a racist arsonist. He has been charged with hate crimes, but these churches need your help. Please join me in donating,” followed by the link to the GoFundMe page. All the donations will be split between the three churches.

Many incidents have been recently surrounding religious buildings. It is hard to think that the place so many people come to for solitude are no longer safe. Luckily no one lost their lives in any of the three churches, but instruments, structure and bibles were burned. Hopefully these communities can come together and build something greater than they had before.