ATLANTA — Four Confederate flags were placed outside of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church here Thursday. Authorities said they are looking for two white men who were caught on surveillance video.
Authorities have images of the men placing the flags outside Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, said Atlanta Police Chief George Turner.
Local authorities are working with federal authorities and have not determined what charges might be levied, he said. They have not ruled out a hate crime, Turner said. 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.
Authorities also are trying to determine whether the flags were placed on federal or church property.
King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue, once a bustling center 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 late civil rights leader lived for the first 12 years of his life.
The incident comes weeks after controversy surrounding the Confederate flag after the fatal shooting of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., on June. 17. Dylan Roof, the white 21-year-old suspect had posted photos of himself online posing with Confederate flags.
The shooting prompted South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to call for the removal of the flag from the Statehouse grounds. The flag — a symbol of slavery and the Old South — was removed on July 10.
Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, said leaving the flags near the church was a message of hate, not heritage.
“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 King Center.
“Our grounds men were so upset, they took pictures and then they moved them,” said the Rev. Shanan Jones of Ebenezer Baptist Church.
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.
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.
(This story was written by WXIA-TV, Atlanta. Contributing: The Associated Press)