A church in suburban Chicago added a message to its electric sign following the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, and it didn't sit well with everyone. The First Baptist Church of University Park was so incensed by Zimmerman's acquittal that it added the statement "It is safe to kill BLACK PEOPLE in Amerikkka" on its sign. Pastor Reginald W. Williams took to the church's Facebook page to explain the motivation and meaning behind the message:
In 1949 Rev. Vernon Johns, the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama (and predecessor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) put on the marquis [sic] in front of Dexter Avenue "It is Safe to Kill Negroes In Montgomery". He did this after a Black man was shot by a White man and received no punishment for the crime of murder. He placed this message on his marquis [sic] to call attention to what many Black people felt during that time—that in America the lives of Black people are treated with short worth by the dominant culture, systems, and institutions. It is interesting, yet unfortunate, that 64 years later, many Black people feel the exact same—In America, the lives of Black people are treated with short worth by the dominant culture, systems, and institutions. In no uncertain terms, Black life is undervalued in our society!
It is this feeling that has resonated through African American communities for years, but especially over the past weekend when the verdict came down in the case involving the murder of Trayvon Martin. It is this feeling, and recognition of this reality that informed the placement of the message on the marquis of First Baptist Church of University Park.
However, passersby felt that the Willaims' decision to spell "AmeriKKKa" the way he did would fuel the fire of post-verdict tensions. Williams eventually changed the message to "Is it safe to Kill Black People in America?" but said the sentiment behind it is the same:
The message on the sign is not a message of hate. It is a message of awakening and call to action. It is a message not intended to divide, but to cause honest reflection in order to make this country a better place for ALL. The intent is to cause ALL people to look inside themselves and honestly ask that question.
Williams was going for shock value because he's aware that the underlying messages of Trayvon Martin's death and George Zimmerman's acquittal are reasons to be angry.