So, you can’t make this stuff up.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while the nation was celebrating the life and legacy of the iconic civil rights leader, a truck was seen in Johnstown, Pa., with a series of problematic images and messages, one of which honored King’s assassin, James Earl Ray.
According to the Associated Press, the truck featured a Confederate flag, a dark stuffed animal hanging from a noose, a mannequin of a black man and a sign on the tailgate that declared, “In Loving Memory of James Earl Ray.”
The vehicle has now drawn the attention of Pennsylvania authorities, with Johnstown police and the Cambria County District Attorney’s Office investigating whether charges of ethnic intimidation might be filed against the owner of the truck, who has not been publicly identified.
“We’re actively working on this with the Johnstown Police Department ... to determine whether there is anything more to this than the photo,” First Assistant District Attorney Heath Long said.
According to the newswire, investigators are trying to determine whether other incidents involving the driver might have gone from free speech and over into criminal behavior—among other things.
The American Civil Liberties Union, however, says that the truck displays are, in fact, protected as free speech.
“He has a right to say those things,” the ACLU said in a statement Tuesday. “The First Amendment gives you the right to say things that are obnoxious and wrong, and this is both.”
Interim Police Chief Jeff Janciga slammed the imagery as being “in poor taste any time of the year,” granted even more so on the holiday celebrating King, but also gave a nod to the fact that hateful speech is often protected.
“Look at the Westboro Baptist Church and what they do at funerals,” Janciga said, referencing the Kansas church known for picketing the funerals of gay people and others it opposes.
The head of the local NAACP chapter, Alan Cashaw, however, called out the driver, saying that he should find another way to make his feelings known.
“If he wants to not like Dr. King, please find another way to display it,” Cashaw said.
Read more at the Associated Press.