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‘A precarious point’ Kemp calls for calm in Georgia ahead of more protests

04/20/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia  - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp makes remarks during a press conference at Liberty Plaza, across the street from the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, April 20, 2020. During the presser, Gov. Kemp revealed that he planned to allow some small business owners to open back up by the end of the week. Other business would open up the following Monday. However, Georgia private and public K-12 schools, colleges and universities would remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
04/20/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp makes remarks during a press conference at Liberty Plaza, across the street from the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, April 20, 2020. During the presser, Gov. Kemp revealed that he planned to allow some small business owners to open back up by the end of the week. Other business would open up the following Monday. However, Georgia private and public K-12 schools, colleges and universities would remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Gov. Brian Kemp said Georgia will “do whatever is necessary to keep the peace” and prevent protests demanding racial justice from turning into violent demonstrations, and he committed to holding a dialogue with organizers when the situation calms.

The governor, who deployed thousands of National Guard troops to reinforce local and state officers, said authorities will be on high alert in Brunswick on Thursday during a court hearing in the slaying death of Ahmaud Arbery.

And he said officials would crack down on “bad actors” if they “infiltrate” peaceful gatherings, after a march against police violence in Atlanta this weekend devolved into looting and chaos that damaged parts of downtown and Buckhead.

"We're in a very precarious point right now, because you have one or two people who are going to cause an instance like you've seen in other states when somebody gets shot," Kemp said, referring to shootings at several other protests.

He then spoke, voice rising, about an Atlanta Police Department officer struck late Saturday by an ATV while patrolling what become a chaotic protest near Centennial Olympic Park.

"You have a perfectly innocent Atlanta police officer get hit on a four-wheeler ... it's a miracle that he's alive, and he's alive because we had the National Guard there," he said of the officer, who was hospitalized at Grady Memorial.

“That is why we need people to work with us on organized peaceful protest and don’t lie down in the street.”

State and city officials have pinned some of the blame on the violence from out-of-state demonstrators.

Pressed on whether authorities have evidence to back that assertion, Vic Reynolds of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation offered no specifics. Nor did he make public hard numbers on how many arrests were from outside Georgia.

But the GBI director said he is “convinced that based on the information and intelligence that we have that there are individuals here from various groups around the country, a lot which are bent primarily on destruction and violence.”

The governor also said he ordered the Department of Natural Resources to investigate why the agency's officers detained journalists working for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post who were covering a Monday protest.

The two journalists were released, and authorities who detained them were swiftly condemned by a coalition of Georgia journalism organizations.

‘I’m certainly open’

The governor said he has no plans to expand an order he signed over the weekend authorizing as many as 3,000 National Guard troops to deploy across the state and empowered them to make arrests.

And Adjutant Gen. Tom Carden said he's yet to be formally asked to send soldiers to other states, a prospect that surfaced after President Donald Trump proposed cracking down on "hoodlums" by sending in National Guard troops.

The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man killed while restrained in police custody after an officer knelt on his neck, though activists in Georgia had long demanded sweeping changes to the criminal justice system.

The slaying of Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who died in February after a fatal confrontation with a white father-and-son duo, only intensified calls for meaningful changes.

Kemp said he’s not yet turned his attention to legislative proposals floated by some of the demonstrators, who have called for a series of steps.

They include hate-crimes legislation that imposes additional penalties on crimes proven to be motivated by bias; a repeal of the state's citizen arrest statute; requirements that police agencies make public more use-of-force incidents; and an overhaul of the state's stand-your-ground-law.

The governor, however, said he has been in contact with some organizers who have helped identify groups that intend to cause damage. And he said he is willing to sit down with protesters when calm prevails.

“I’m certainly open to having a dialogue with anybody that wants to have it, if they’re willing to do that in a productive way,” he said. “That’s what government is all about.”

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