Police worked Thursday to identify two white males who were caught on surveillance camera laying Confederate battle flags neatly on the ground near the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church.
It was the latest provocative act involving the Civil War-era symbol since nine black church members were gunned down during Bible study in South Carolina, and it happened in the heart of an area devoted to the slain civil rights leader, near his birthplace, his crypt and a center devoted to preserving his legacy.
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, though Georgia has no state hate crimes law.
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.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, called placing the flags on church grounds a “terroristic threat.”
“This act by a cowardly and misguided individual or individuals is provocative to say the least. It ought to get the attention not only of black people but of freedom-loving people,” he said. “To place Confederate flags on the campus of Ebenezer Baptist Church after this horrific act in Charleston, in the wake of all this happening in our country, whatever the message was, it was clearly not about heritage, it was about hate.”
The flags weren’t stuck in the ground but instead laid flat. One was placed near a bell tower under a poster that said: “Black Lives Matter.” The slogan, which has been spray-painted on Confederate monuments across the South this summer, has become part of a movement of civil rights supporters who say police treat blacks unfairly.