CHICAGO (CBS) — A sign posted outside a south suburban church is generating a powerful debate over race in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict.READ MORE: Thieves Keep Using Postal Master Keys To Steal Mail: How Are They Getting A Hold Of Those Keys?
The marquee outside the First Baptist Church of University Park earlier this week read: “It Is Safe To Kill Black People In Amerikkka.”
On Saturday, a jury of six women in Florida acquitted Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Several comments on the church’s Facebook page took issue with the reference to the Ku Klux Klan in the word Amerikkka, with many saying the church’s sign is hateful and divisive and implies that all white Americans are racist.
The church responded by saying: “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 wording has historical precedence, according to the church’s Facebook page.
After the shooting of a black man by a white man in Montgomery, Ala., in 1949, Rev. Vernon Johns posted a sign outside the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church that read: “It Is Safe To Kill Negroes In Montgomery.”READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Wednesday Starts On A Chilly Note
The church has since changed the wording into a question: “Is It Safe To Kill Black People In America?”
“The initial sign, which has caused such a furor, stated, “It is safe to kill Black People in the United States of Amerikkka.” Much focus was placed on the intentional misspelling of America,” the church responded on its Facebook page.
“The use of “kkk”, was done to call attention to the fact that, just as in the ‘glory days of the KKK, it appears far too often that the murder of African Americans is permitted, and the mistreatment of African Americans historically and currently is far too cavalierly considered.”
The sign has generated controversy among University Park residents.
“I think he is right. A black man is still not safe in the United States,’ said Bettie Wayne.
“We know as black Americans what’s going on in our society. It doesn’t need to be exploited on a sign,” said University Park Resident Darnell Crawford.MORE NEWS: View Live Radar
The pastor also says he hopes the criticism he has received can be channeled to attack institutional racism in America.