CLEARWATER — The residents of North Greenwood, who this summer have dealt with the July 19 shooting of Markeis McGlockton that unleashed a controversial stand your ground case and protests headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Black Lives Matter movement, didn’t spend much time discussing the swastikas.
Pastor Carlton Childs, the Upper Pinellas County Ministerial Alliance president, said he brought up the topic at the organization’s monthly town hall Wednesday. He asked if everyone was aware of the hate symbols that were spray-painted on their neighborhood the same day more than 300 spoke out against McGlockton’s shooting.
Out of the about 20 people at the recreation and aquatic complex, most already knew about the swastikas. The few who didn’t quickly got up to speed. All agreed they need to be on the lookout. Then the meeting moved on.
"It’s not a minor incident, but we don’t expect a whole lot of that to continue in this neighborhood," said Childs.
Clearwater Police arrested 21-year-old Christian Chagnon on Tuesday after he confessed he painted the yellow swastikas about 10 p.m. Aug. 5, said Police Chief Dan Slaughter.
Chagnon was released from the Pinellas County jail on $500 bail. He could not be reached for comment. He faces a charge of criminal mischief, but Slaughter said the department will pursue the charge as a hate crime, which would bump it from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor. He has no criminal background in Florida other than this arrest.
The swastikas appeared on the garage door of an auto repair shop at 1101 Seminole St. and the parking lot ground of the North Greenwood Library at 905 N Martin Luther King Blvd., a few blocks away from the St. John Primitive Church, 1002 Palmetto St., where the McGlockton rally took place. The damage to the property was about $100.
McGlockton, 28, was a black man fatally shot by Michael Drejka, a 47-year-old white man, after an argument over a convenience store parking spot.
On Aug. 5 — the same day of McGlockton’s rally and the swastikas — a white supremacist group called Patriot Front put up posters nearby that read "Not Stolen, Conquered" with a map of the U.S. and "Keep America American." Chagnon, who is white, claimed to be a part of the group, which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, broke off from a neo-nazi group called Vanguard America after the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Benjamin Adams, the head of the church where the McGlockton rally was held, said one of his parishioners found posters up on the front door and the church’s van a day after. He said the church didn’t publicize what happened because they didn’t want to cause mass hysteria.
"Sometimes when you stir the pot, you give things more attention than they deserve," Adams said. "If you ignore them, sometimes they just go away."
He said he wasn’t surprised when he found out about the posters because of the current climate, which he said emboldens hatred and racism.
Clearwater does get hate-motivated symbols from time to time, Slaughter said. However, this is the first time he’s ever heard of any direct link between the area and Patriot Front.
Slaughter said he was amazed at how North Greenwood dealt with the incidents.
"They didn’t overreact or panic," Slaughter said. "They reported it to us, and I take a lot of pride in that they trusted us to follow through as we did."
Marva McWhite, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People local chapter, said she was shocked to hear about the swastikas and posters. Some community members echoed her feelings of surprise and disappointment when they found out, she said.
But now that someone has been arrested, people will rest easier, she said. They’ll simply look out for each other’s property more carefully.
"In my view this has already been taken care of the way it should be by the police department," she said. "I applaud Chief Slaughter and his team for their quick turnaround."
Contact Jimena Tavel at [email protected] Follow @taveljimena.