Valdosta State closes ahead of flag rally expected to draw 4000 – Atlanta Journal Constitution
Classes were canceled at Valdosta State University Friday because of safety concerns surrounding an afternoon rally planned to show support for the American flag.
The “Flags Over VSU” rally is slated to begin at 1:30 p.m. on the Valdosta State campus. As many as 4,000 people are expected, according to a Facebook page set up by rally organizers.
“After further discussions with local law enforcement and in the interest of safety of our students, faculty and staff, Valdosta State University will suspend normal business operations for Friday, April 24,” according to a message on the university’s website. “For students living in on-campus housing, we will have an increased law enforcement presence on campus to ensure their continued safety throughout the protests scheduled to occur around Main Campus.”
Tensions have been high at Valdosta State after a protest Friday where demonstrators walked on an American flag.
An Air Force veteran was banned from the south Georgia university after taking the flag from the protesters.
Police performing extra security patrols at the school Tuesday afternoon in light of the protest found a backpack on school property with a handgun inside that they linked to a campus protester.
University police this week issued an arrest warrant for the demonstrator, identified as Eric Sheppard. Authorities Friday were trying to locate Sheppard, who they said they believed to be in hiding and is considered armed and dangerous. Initially, police said there was no evidence that he was on university property.
WALB-TV in Albany reported that Sheppard claimed in a video posted on YouTube that the American flag “represents white supremacy racism which is plaguing the entire earth, so when we step on that flag, we are stepping on racism, white supremacy.”
Friday’s safety concerns weren’t confined to the Valdosta State campus, which plans to resume normal operations for all classes and events scheduled for Saturday.
The Valdosta Daily Times reported that extra police were in place Friday at Lowndes County High School, where principal Jaybez Floyd said, “Due to the events at VSU and text messages that have circulated with our students, we will have extra security measures for our campus today.”
Floyd said there would be no protests on the high school’s campus.