April V. Taylor
Federal authorities and police are not ruling out a possible hate crime after surveillance footage has surfaced showing two men placing Confederate battle flags outside of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Four flags were noticed by a maintenance man around 6 am Thursday. The maintenance man notified a federal park ranger who called police. There has been an ongoing debate over the flag since the massacre of nine Black church members in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist who embraced the flag.
Ebenezer Baptist Church is where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. The church’s current pastor, Rev. Raphael Warnock, has called the placement of the flags an act of terrorism that was meant to intimidate. Warnock specifically stated, “To place Confederate flags on the campus of Ebenezer Baptist Church – after this horrific act in Charleston [and] in the wake of all that’s happening in our country – whatever the message was it clearly was not about heritage. It was about hate,” referencing the slogan many of the flag’s supporters use to downplay the notion that the flag is a racist symbol.
Warnock went on to say, “Let the message go out that we will not be shaken by this. We will not be intimidated.”
Atlanta police Chief George Turner revealed that authorities have “good, strong physical evidence,” due to the act being caught on the church’s surveillance cameras. Turner specifically stated, “We do have images of two white males placing those flags on the campus. We’re trying to identify those folk right now.” The Atlanta FBI’s joint terrorism task force is also involved with the case, and neither agency is classifying the incident as a hate crime until it is investigated further.
According to police, the perpetrators could face charges that include criminal trespassing, terroristic threats and littering. Authorities say they will release surveillance images of the act, but they did not give a timeline for when that will be done.
During a news conference, National Park Service superintendent Judy Forte revealed that her office received a threatening phone message the day before the Charleston massacre. Forte stated that the message was “very alarming and they did mention coming here to the historic site.”