Confederate flags placed near Atlanta church
Confederate battle flags were stealthily placed on the grounds of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church, and authorities said Thursday they were looking for two white males who were recorded on surveillance camera leaving the rebel banners behind.
Atlanta police Chief George Turner said his agency was working with federal authorities and they have not determined what charges might be levied. Turner said they have not ruled out a hate crime. An officer from the Atlanta FBI’s joint terrorism task force was on the scene “to better determine if any specific threats were received” and to provide support to Atlanta police, FBI Special Agent Steve Emmett said in an email.
King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue, once a bustling centre of commerce for Atlanta’s African-American businesses and residents. The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the historic church and its new building - where congregants now meet and where the flags were placed - are a short walk from the home of King’s grandparents, where the slain civil rights leader lived for the first 12 years of his life.
It was the latest volley in the fight over the Confederate flag and Civil War-era monuments ever since a white gunman was accused of killing nine black church members in South Carolina. Statues of the secessionist, pro-slavery Confederacy have been vandalized around the South, and state governments in South Carolina and Alabama have removed rebel battle flags entirely from Capitol grounds. The flag is claimed by some white southerners as a symbol of regional and ancestral pride, but has also been used by white supremacists and is seen by many African-Americans and as a symbol of oppression.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer, called placing the flags a “terroristic threat.”
“It is a hateful act,” he said. “I view it as an effort to intimidate us in some way, and we will not be intimidated.”
Atlanta police Officer Gary Wade said a maintenance worker discovered the flags at 6 a.m. Thursday and notified the National Park Service, which operates the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which is adjacent to the church.
“Our grounds men were so upset, they took pictures and then they moved them,” said the Rev. Shanan Jones of Ebenezer Baptist.
The flags weren’t stuck in the ground but instead set neatly on top of it. One was placed on the ground near a bell tower and poster that said: “Black Lives Matter.”
The slogan has become part of a movement of civil rights supporters who say police treat blacks unfairly.
Two former Georgia prosecutors said it might be tough to prosecute the people responsible.
“It was certainly divisive and not acceptable behaviour the way it was done, but I cannot find a criminal act to it,” said Bob Keller, the Clayton County district attorney for nearly three decades until 2004.
Ken Hodges, who served as Dougherty County district attorney from 1997 to 2008, said a charge of vandalism to a place of worship might be possible.
A conference on the role on black churches in social justice issues has been going on in Ebenezer’s facilities.
Warnock said the hateful act only strengthens their resolve, and he promised the city would remain peaceful.
Confederate flags have been placed at the King Center before.
“It was disturbing and sickening, but unfortunately not terribly surprising,” Warnock said of the latest incident.
“We’ve seen this kind of ugliness before.”