A Pennsylvania man celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day by driving around in a black pickup with a sign reading, “In loving memory of James Earl Ray.”
Who is James Earl Ray, you ask? Why, he is Martin Luther King’s assassin, of course.
If this reference wasn’t enough, the man had also decorated his truck with a Confederate flag and a black mannequin hanging with a noose around its neck.
The white supremacist, who did not wish to see his name in the press, said his reason was innocent enough: He was just expressing his opinion and did not believe he had done anything wrong.
In fact, this isn’t the first time he has done such a thing; it is actually an annual occurrence. He has been doing it for the past 12 years and did not mean it as a threat.
Of course not, how could anyone think that when he has a “lynched” mannequin in his truck?
The picture of the man’s car was posted across social media channels and Johnston police are now investigating the incident by determining whether the driver was involved in criminal activities outside the boundaries of free speech.
The local chapter of the NAACP said the image was hateful and interim police Chief Jeff Janciga stated it was “in poor taste any time of the year.”
Yet he said the police department was committed to the First Amendment: “Look at the Westboro Baptist Church and what they do at funerals. Even though its an emotional time for people (mourning the loss of a loved one), their hateful speech is protected.”
The American Civil Liberties Union defended the man and said he had “the right” to say these things.
“He has a right to say those things. The First Amendment gives you the right to say things that are obnoxious and wrong, and this is both,” the group said.
Social media users reacted to the news with shock and outrage.
"You gotta understand that your father and your ancestors... They've all experienced the same type of hate."https://t.co/93T0qsegZj— Dillon Richards (@thedillonjames) January 18, 2017
"In loving memory of James Earl Ray" the man that murdered MLK. This is Pennsylvania in 2017. pic.twitter.com/5bGuvfT5Os— DG (@notthreefifths) January 19, 2017
Because of course a right winger would do this...float honors MLK Jr.’s assassin James Earl Ray https://t.co/aojk9Xk47V— Tim Wise (@timjacobwise) January 18, 2017
A unity rally in response to the display will be held on Thursday.
Interestingly, this man is not alone. There is a disturbing trend among a specific group of people to refer to MLK Day as “James Earl Ray Appreciation Day.” It seems racism and hatred is still alive and well in America.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Billy Weeks