Written by: Kenzie Kesselring, Asst. Opinions Editor
“This is positive. People are asking now. I’m actually trying to educate everybody,” VSU student Eric Sheppard said while explaining his method of protest to a fellow VSU student.
Sheppard is, as of Wednesday night, the subject of an intense local manhunt after a gun was found on campus and allegedly linked to Sheppard, according to police.
Sheppard first entered into the public spotlight after walking on an American flag in a campus protest April 17.
On Wednesday afternoon, Sheppard’s father, Eric Sheppard Sr., stood on the steps of West Hall beside VSU President William McKinney and asked for his son to come out of hiding.
“Son, you know we love you and have always taught you to do the right thing and make wise decisions,” Sheppard’s father said. “Please make the right decision and turn yourself in, either to the authorities or to me, and we will handle this together. We love you and are here for you, as you requested.”
Throughout the past week, students and faculty have been in a state of concern. Everyone has been asking: Who is Eric Sheppard? What drove him and his friends to begin their protests?
Sheppard is a junior sociology major from Atlanta who began his education at VSU in 2011.
During Monday’s protests that were held to show support for the American flag and racial equality, students gathered around to ask Sheppard questions about him and his beliefs.
With all the contradictory information plaguing social media after Friday’s events, it has become difficult to separate rumors from the truth.
Through conversations with students, Sheppard revealed that he believes white privilege still rules America and that the impacts of slavery are still prevalent in America today.
“They are stepping on the flag because they feel betrayed by America,” VSU senior Mia Rawls said. “That’s the psychology and symbolism behind it. Although I do not agree, I understand.”
Michelle Manhart, a veteran who is not a VSU student, came onto campus after hearing about the protest from her daughter. Manhart attempted to take the flag from the protestors because she felt they were disrespecting it.
Manhart was detained by VSU police after refusing to give the flag back to the protestors. She was not charged in the incident, but is now banned from campus. The incident between Manhart and VSUPD was captured on camera, and that video has garnered millions of views after Manhart posted it on her Facebook page.
People supporting Manhart and accusing VSU of being unlawful, and people who believe VSU took the proper course of action, took to social media over the weekend to share their opinions.
However, according to the Texas vs. Johnson court case of 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it’s not illegal to deface an American flag. What the protestors were doing was against United States flag codes, but the flag codes have no criminal penalty.
Monday, outside of Odum Library, students and veterans with American flags and signs came to show their support for the American flag and their campus. The group that protested on Friday was back in the same spot with an American flag, Bible, Quran and pictures of Jesus on the ground.
After the protests ended on Monday around 4 p.m., an Instagram picture went viral. The picture showed three men, one of them Sheppard, posing with semi-automatic weapons and handguns.
Tuesday a campus alert revealed that police found a handgun a backpack on campus around 2:45 pm. Police said they linked the gun to Sheppard, but at that point Sheppard could not be found.
Sheppard now has a warrant out for his arrest, and police are calling Sheppard a threat to the community.
“E.J is not as chaotic or dangerous as they think he is,” said Lewis Cureton, VSU student and member of the Black Student League. “He is simply angry because he’s read a lot of history.”
Anyone with information on Sheppard’s whereabouts can call University Police at 229-333-7816 or 911.
Correction: Previously, this article incorrectly stated that Sheppard had photos of Kendrick Johnson on the ground at Monday’s protest.