As riots rock Atlanta, Bottoms gets high praise for response

Protests against the killing George Floyd started out peacefully in downtown Atlanta but eventually devolved into violence with looting and property damage. Police dispersed tear gas and deployed SWAT teams to combat the crowds. (AJC Staff / edited by Ryon Horne)

A top Republican operative urged the nation to watch Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ passionate plea to end violent demonstrations. Leading Georgia officials applauded her stance. And presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s spokesman said he was “in awe” of her response.

Politicians, commentators and activists praised Bottoms' forceful denunciation of the wave of violence that erupted in Atlanta overnight as a peaceful protest descended into chaos.

Flanked by civil rights leaders and hip-hop stars, the mayor condemned rioters who she said marred the memory of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man whose death at the hands of police officers has sparked nationwide outrage over racial inequality.

“If you want change in America, go and register to vote! Show up at the polls on June 9. Do it in November. That is the change we need in this country,” she said. “You are disgracing our city, you are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country.”

» MORE: Read Bottoms' plea for her city

» MORE: Media, Biden endorsement raises Atlanta Mayor Bottoms' national profile

Gov. Brian Kemp and other top Republicans quickly echoed Bottoms, calling for demonstrators to go home and push for meaningful change in other ways. Citing Bottoms’ words, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins said “more violence will not heal us.” So, too, did other prominent conservative officials.

“This is powerful. Heartfelt, caring, passionate and a moving lesson in what it means to protest how to bring change to America,” said Ari Fleischer, a Republican consultant who was the spokesman for George W. Bush’s administration. “Everyone should watch this.”

She also drew more attention from national Democrats at a significant moment. Bottoms, one of the earliest Georgia supporters of Biden, has campaigned for him across the nation and is often mentioned as a potential running-mate.

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The former vice president’s chief spokesman, T.J. Ducklo, wrote on social media that he agrees with “every word” of her speech.

"In awe of @KeishaBottoms's leadership for the city of Atlanta," he wrote.

The praise was not uniform. She was targeted with criticism for not taking a more aggressive approach to stopping the violence. Some noted how her remarks did little to prevent demonstrators from ransacking stores, restaurants and attractions.

"I'm almost certain the people destroying the CNN Center aren't residents of the area," said Angela Stanton King, a Republican running for Georgia's 5th Congressional District. "No way they should be able to destroy this city and return back to their homes. This isn't a protest – this is a crime."

In her emotional plea, Bottoms said the violence shifted the narrative away a nationwide dialogue about racial justice that peaceful demonstrators had hoped to highlight.

“This won’t change anything. We’re no longer talking about the murder of an innocent man. We’re talking about how you’re burning police cars on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia,” she said. “Go home.”