Brunswick baby murder brings racial tensions to the surface

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A Glynn County Sheriff's Deputy directs 17 year-old De Marquise Elkins out of the courtroom in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. after Elkin's first appearance hearing in Magistrate Court Monday, March 25, 2013. Elkins and a 14 year-old were arrested Friday, March 23 and charged by warrant in the shooting death of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago. (AP Photo/The Brunswick News/Bobby Haven)

A Glynn County Sheriff's Deputy directs 17 year-old De Marquise Elkins out of the courtroom in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. after Elkin's first appearance hearing in Magistrate Court Monday, March 25, 2013. Elkins and a 14 year-old were arrested Friday, March 23 and charged by warrant in the shooting death of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago. (AP Photo/The Brunswick News/Bobby Haven)

GEORGIA – Just days after two teenagers were charged with the murder of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago, the emotionally-charged case is starting to put a strain on race relations in the city of Brunswick.

Rev. Kenneth Adkins, the pastor of a prominent local church, says “covert racial tension” has always been an underlying issue in the small, close-knit, coastal Georgia community.

The horrific killing has had a “huge impact,” says Adkins, and has sparked racial tensions coming to the surface. Some callers to local radio shows have used provocative and inflammatory language when referring to the two suspects, adds Adkins of the Greater Dimensions Christian Fellowship.

Arrests made but questions still unanswered

On Monday, the two teen suspects, De’Marquise Elkins, 17, and a 15-year-old juvenile, made their first court appearance and were charged with first-degree murder. Police say the boys shot the baby in the face in a botched robbery attempt.

Adkins, who is well known for being an outspoken community activist, says the murder has shaken and “divided the community.” This is exacerbated by the fact that Glynn County detectives do not have any eyewitnesses except Santiago’s mother, Sherry West.

Some local residents are questioning West’s credibility or “whether the police have the right boys.” Frank Jerome Johnson, a long-term resident of Brunswick, says though he does not see race as a big factor, it’s an “outburst between two families over whether or not the boys committed the crime.”

Family of suspect have their own trouble with the law

In the latest development on Tuesday, news outlets have been reporting that the aunt and mother of Elkins were both arrested on charges that they lied to authorities.

Glynn County jail records show that the mother of Elkins, 36-year-old Karimah Elkins, and his 33-year-old aunt, Katrina Elkins, were booked Tuesday on felony charges for  allegedly providing false statements or writings; concealing facts or fraudulent documents in matters of government.

Kevin Gough, the lawyer for 17-year-old De’Marquise Elkins, told theGrio. “My client is absolutely not guilty. We’ve demanded a speedy trial on his behalf. We’ve filed a bond for Elkins and hope to have him released to the custody of his family at the earliest opportunity.”

Racial tensions in the wake of tragedy 

Located about halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville, the city of Brunswick has a population of about 15,000 people, of which about 60 percent are African-American, yet according to Adkins, the city has never ever had a black mayor. He adds there has also been an ongoing issue over the lack of black teachers in public schools.

There are also some online rumblings that the reaction from African-American community leaders has been muted, with some even speculating whether President Obama should come out and say anything about the horrific death of Antonio Santiago.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti