Con­fed­er­ate flags placed near At­lanta church

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD/OBITUARIES - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.”

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