Clinton Decries Church Arsons Presents Plan to End Spate of Fires in South

By Compiled From News Services | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 9, 1996 | Go to article overview

Clinton Decries Church Arsons Presents Plan to End Spate of Fires in South


Compiled From News Services, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


With ministers from two burned-out churches standing at his side, President Bill Clinton Saturday announced a four-point program to halt the recent rash of burnings of black churches in the South.

In his weekly radio address, the president said he would:

* Back legislation introduced by representatives John Conyers, D-Mich., and Henry Hyde, R-Ill., to make it easier to prosecute the crime of arson.

* Ask a federal law enforcement task force to make recommendations on what further steps to take.

* Order federal agents to advise churches and other houses of worship precautionary measures.

* Set up a 24-hour toll-free hot line, 1-888-ATF-FIRE, for anyone with information on the burnings.

"I call on communities everywhere that churches have been burned to roll up their sleeves and rebuild these churches," Clinton said. "We must come together, black and white alike, to smother the fires of hatred that fuel this violence.

"Every family has a right to expect that when they walk to church or synagogue or mosque they will find a house of worship, not the charred remnants of a hateful act done by cowards in the night."

Churches with black congregations have been burned in South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina. Two men with ties to the Ku Klux Klan have been charged with setting one of the South Carolina fires after a Klan rally.

As the radio speech ended, Clinton told reporters that as a son of Arkansas the burnings have a special meaning for him. "I have vivid and painful memories of churches burned in my own state when I was a child," the president said.

Asked what the fires say about the state of race relations in the United States, the president replied that while race relations are improving overall, "there are still pockets of hatred and extremism. But I believe the overwhelming majority of Americans are appalled by this. We know wherever we see it that we have to stomp it out."

Clinton's call was echoed by Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, GOP presidential candidate, who also called for swift action to bring to justice those responsible for "these vicious acts of hate."

"These hate crimes are wrong, evil and have no place in the United States of America," Dole said in a statement.

Clinton's address brought immediate applause from black leaders.

Kweisi Mfume, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called for the immediate passage of the Conyers-Hyde bill. …

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