Atlanta orders curfew, Kemp says authorities won't 'back down' as new protests loom

Kemp to authorize 1,500 National Guard troops in Atlanta

Gov. Brian Kemp pledged Saturday that authorities would “do what's necessary to keep the peace” as Atlanta officials announced a curfew from 9 p.m. Saturday through sunrise Sunday to prevent a second round of violent demonstrations.

In a video address, Kemp said authorities will "not back down from those who peddle conflict and chaos" and called for Georgians to unite peacefully after a chaotic night of looting and destruction Friday in downtown and Buckhead.

And Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms urged residents to get to a “safe place” in their homes and steer clear of large gatherings as hundreds of demonstrators massed outside the Governor's Mansion and other parts of the city.

“We don't want to have to detain anyone, but we will maintain order in the streets of Atlanta tonight,” she said, promising aggressive police enforcement.

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To reinforce local authorities, Kemp said he plans to sign an executive order that will allow as many as 1,500 Georgia National Guardsmen to deploy to the city. About 1,000 troops are already on the scene or mobilizing, and an additional 500 are on standby, his office said.

“While life is more valuable than property, we do not want the destruction of either,” the governor said. “What we witnessed was outrageous, and we’ll do our part, in conjunction with local leaders, to plan, mobilize and respond appropriately to threats that undermine public safety.”

Officials are preparing for new clashes after rioters burned police cars and smashed their ways into stores despite pleas by Bottoms to seek meaningful ways to honor the memory of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis officer pinned him down with a knee on his neck while he was handcuffed.

“We are going to be ready and we are going to be there, just like we always are,” Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr., the state’s adjutant general, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We would be foolish not to be in a posture to respond after what happened last night.”

The troopers who are deployed Saturday will be armed with significant military equipment, Kemp's office said. The Guard will also dispatch 100 armored Humvees throughout the city to reinforce the local and state law enforcement officials on duty.

The decisions were made in consultation with city leaders and police officials, said a Kemp spokesman. Bottoms said her office is also coordinating with nearby cities for additional police presence to help with the recovery.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“When you come in, and your goal is to inflict harm and property damage, without any regard to human life, you are a terrorist,” said Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, who said the violence was the work of a “highly calculated terrorist organization” from outside the city.

“You caught us off balance once, you won't do it twice."

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In other parts of metro Atlanta, officials also prepared for gatherings that could turn violent. Dunwoody authorities were on alert after hundreds massed at Perimeter Mall around 2 a.m. on Saturday.

And video posted on social media showed a shopping center in East Point being cleared after word spread about a possible large-scale gathering there.

Legislative leaders have also offered to pour in additional resources. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan's office has been in frequent contact with city officials. And House Speaker David Ralston said he’s also offered Bottoms support from the state.

“I called her this morning and told her what I saw last night was a strong leader and a mother. I thought her message was heartfelt and powerful,” Ralston said in an interview. “I told her I support whatever resources and help from the state she needs, because we are all in this together.”

On Friday, Georgia Guardsmen scrambled to the CNN Center, Centennial Olympic Park and Lenox Square after Kemp signed an initial executive order calling for up to 500 troops to help restore order.

The move comes after more than 2,300 Georgia Guardsmen have been dispatched to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to disinfecting long-term care homes, they are testing patients for the disease, aiding busy hospitals and assisting food banks.

“I have got 12,000 more. I have plenty of gas in the tank,” said Carden, who emphasized the Guardsmen are reinforcing local and state police in response to the protests.

Kemp’s executive order gives the Guardsmen the authority to make arrests, though they haven’t done that so far, Carden said. He also confirmed the Guardsmen are armed, though he would not disclose precisely how, citing security concerns.

“I need to make sure that my people can defend themselves, life and limb. I don’t need a M4 to do that,” Carden said, referring to a type of rifle used by the U.S. military.

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Carden added that he is sensitive to concerns about uniformed troops handling law enforcement.

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

“We are better than this. We should never be at a point in this state — or for that matter anywhere in the United States — where we have to bring in the National Guard to assist local authorities in restoring order and to protect life and property.”

In his video address, Kemp said violent demonstrators who ransacked the College Football Hall of Fame, looted stores and defaced the CNN Center squandered the chance to honor Floyd's memory by demanding fair treatment under the law.

“We will do what’s necessary to keep the peace. My fellow Georgians, we now have a choice. Do we come together and face these challenges united? Or do we let our differences divide us even further?”