Surveillance cameras caught images of two white males laying Confederate battle flags on the ground near the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church, but it wasn’t clear whether they had committed a crime.
Atlanta police Chief George Turner said Thursday his officers were working with federal authorities and hadn’t determined what, if any, charges might be sought. Turner said they had 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 placing of the flags was the latest provocative act involving the Civil War-era symbol since nine black church members were gunned down during Bible study in Charleston, 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.
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.”
Two former Georgia prosecutors said leaving the flags alone doesn’t amount to a terroristic threat in the eyes of the law.