CLEARWATER — Police officers on Tuesday arrested a man accused of spray-painting a swastika in the parking lot of the North Greenwood Library hours after the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at a nearby church during a rally in response to a recent shooting of an unarmed black man.
The graffiti coincided with a smattering of posters from a white supremacist group posted around North Greenwood, a historically black community in Clearwater and the epicenter of local response to the July 19 shooting of Markeis McGlockton in a convenience store parking lot, police said.
Christian Chagnon, 21, faces a charge of criminal mischief after police said he painted the swastika about 9 p.m. Aug. 5 at the library at 905 N Martin Luther King Blvd. Chagnon was acting separately from Patriot Front, the group that distributed the posters saying "Keep America American" and "Not Stolen, Conquered" with a map of America, Police Chief Dan Slaughter said. Some were posted on the doors of St. John Primitive Baptist Church, where Sharpton spoke Aug. 5.
Slaughter said Tuesday he believes the events related to the rally, which featured speakers including Sharpton, civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump and Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012. They all criticized Florida’s stand your ground law, which initially protected McGlockton’s shooter from arrest, because of its disproportionate effect on people of color.
"A group shows up that’s known for promoting a white supremacy agenda hours after black leaders meet to discuss their concerns about racial inequities," he said. "I think it’s a reasonable conclusion that they’re directly related."
The department is pursuing Chagnon’s charge as a hate crime, which would bump it from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor.
"The charge isn’t significant but it would at least communicate the message that this is not tolerable," Slaughter said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Patriot Front as a "white nationalist hate group" that split off from the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America after last year’s deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va. Police officers have identified Patriot Front members involved but have not arrested them because putting up posters is not a crime.
McGlockton, 28, was shot by Michael Drejka, who is white, in the parking lot of the Circle A Food Store at Sunset Point Road. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office initially didn’t arrest Drejka, citing stand your ground. Prosecutors later charged him with manslaughter.
Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.