The Jolt: The reactions that followed a weekend of violent protest

One week after the slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the looting and vandalism that has engulfed parts of downtown Atlanta and other major cities risks shifting the narrative away from racial injustice and toward wanton violence.

Reaction even among Republicans has been mixed, despite the fact that we are about to enter the general election campaign season. Or maybe because of that.

On Sunday, House Speaker David Ralston has a message for fellow conservatives who paint the looters with the same brush as the peaceful demonstrators:

"I hope they distinguish there were peaceful protesters and then there were, quite frankly, the thugs that came out after dark," he said in an interview. "We can't lump everyone together."

He continued:

"A lot of people, regardless of party, were horrified by the video they saw of George Floyd, which came on the heels of Ahmaud Arbery. In the midst of this pandemic, we're going through another moment. I'm not sure how we are going to end up, but we are going to come out of this a better state."

Ralston made clear that he’ll step up his push for a hate-crimes law that imposes stiffer penalties on crimes based on racial bias when lawmakers return. Floyd’s death in police custody, he said, only added to his drive. Said Ralston:

"I'm a strong supporter of law enforcement and will continue to be. But we have to take another look at these issues. I'm more committed to a hate crimes law than ever. Georgia is better than this, and we aren't going to be an outlier on this issue. It would send such a strong message around the state and around the nation about where our values are."

Democrats applaud the Republican embrace of hate-crimes statutes, but say it should be part of a broader criminal justice overhaul. House Minority Leader Bob Trammell spelled out his priorities in a lengthy Facebook post.

Georgia lawmakers, he said, should repeal the state’s citizen’s arrest statute, which prosecutors initially cited in the death of Arbery to justify the decision not to charge the father-and-son duo filmed in the fatal confrontation.

Lawmakers should also overhaul the stand-your-ground laws to prevent residents from citing the rules when they “chase someone down and kill them.” And he said the state should encourage civilian review boards for police departments to review hiring, use of force and other complaints.

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Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., openly sided with President Donald Trump, who said Sunday he would designate Antifa as a domestic terrorism organization. Via her Twitter account, Loeffler sent out a video of remarks she made on Fox News:

"I commend the president for naming Antifa as a domestic terror organization, because that is exactly what appears to be happening. And then [U.s. Attorney General Bill] Barr moving to mobilize the 56 FBI counter terrorism task forces across the country to figure out – who is organize these and why is it happening? And it's got to stop."

Above the video, Loeffler wrote:

Americans - including me - are angry, but the violence, anarchy & destructive Antifa mobs aren't principled protests. They're forms of domestic terrorism & distract from what we need to do to honor the memory of #GeorgeFloyd & move forward to address this serious challenge.

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More than a few news outlets this morning are pointing to President Donald Trump's weekend of silence -- save for incendiary Twitter messages -- as unrest erupted across the county.

In a serious spate of consistent national messaging on Sunday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms declared that this wasn't necessarily a bad thing. On NBC's "Meet the Press," she said:

"It's as my grandmother used to say, 'If you don't have anything good to say, sometimes you just shouldn't say anything at all' … I don't have an issue with the president of the United States addressing our nation. But I am concerned that this president has a history of making matters worse.

ExploreOn CNN’s “State of the Union”:

"He should just stop talking. This is like Charlottesville all over again. He speaks, and he makes it worse. 

"There are times when you should just be quiet. And I wish that he would just be quiet. Or, if he can't be silent, if there's somebody of good sense and good conscience in the White House, put him in front of a teleprompter and pray that he reads it, and at least says the right things, because he is making it worse."

ExploreOn CBS’ “Face the Nation”:

"This is so reminiscent of Charlottesville, when President Trump just made it worse. And there are times that you should just stop. And this is -- this is one of those times. He's making it worse. This is not about using military force.

"This is about where we are in America. We are beyond a tipping point in this country. And his rhetoric only inflames that. And he should just sometimes stop talking."

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Other voices: 

-- From U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.: “These tragedies have shaken us to the core and require thorough investigations to get answers for the victims and their families. However, violence is never the solution and will not serve to heal our country.”

-- Stacey Abrams: “As polite sympathy turns to cynical outrage + Nixon-esque insults, and anxious protest is dismissed as mindless anarchy, we cannot let our eyes be turned away from the dead, murdered bodies that brought us here. Again.”

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We forget that, in the 1960s, there was a terrific debate over whether to embrace Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for non-violent protest, or to follow the path of violent confrontation. The rift is still there.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and a U.S. Senate candidate, addressed the conflict in a Sunday sermon: "'Don't allow undisciplined provocateurs of hate who engage in looting or who Tweet about shooting to hijack the high moral message," he said.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, said much the same on Saturday night, to mixed reviews.

In an interview on MSNBC, followed up by a longer statement on his website, Lewis condemned the looters and arsonists and said non-violent activism — peaceful marches and exercising the right to vote — were the way to go.

His comments were widely shared on social media by the likes of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; celebrity chef Padma Lakshmi and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

But many also expressed frustration that decades of peaceful marches had not resolved the systemic issues of racism, police brutality and economic inequality.

"I hate to say this, but non-violent protest[s] haven't worked," one Twitter user said. "It's why there's so much rage."

The writer quoted Lewis: “History has proven time and again that non-violent, peaceful protest is the way to achieve the justice and equality that we all deserve.” And then added this: “I disagree, congressman.”

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Already posted: Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms apologized Sunday for what she said was clearly excessive force used by Atlanta Police in the arrest of two young African Americans during the city's curfew crackdown Saturday night after protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.

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This passage appears in an Associated Press article on the intersection of civil unrest with a pandemic:

Health experts need newly infected people to remember and recount everyone they've interacted with over several days in order to alert others who may have been exposed, and prevent them from spreading the disease further. But that process, known as contact tracing, relies on people knowing who they've been in contact with — a daunting task if they've been to a mass gathering.

And the process relies on something that may suddenly be in especially short supply: Trust in government.

"These events that are happening now are further threats to the trust we need," said Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health. "If we do not have that, I worry our capacity to control new outbreaks becomes more limited," he said.

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We've been pointing you to law enforcement officials who have broken with the ritual of silent solidarity that often accompanies the killing of African Americans by police. This was posted on the Facebook page of Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds:

I have watched the entire video of the unfortunate and unnecessary death of George Floyd while in police custody. As I watched the video, I felt myself entering into the screen, rushing over and stopping time.

With time frozen, I see myself grabbing the officer by the collar and standing him up. I want to peer into his eyes and ask, "Why?"

I want to shake him and pour into his soul the profound hurt of a nation. I want him to look into the future and see the senseless pain he had caused. Not only to George, but our nation as a whole. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian…

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Oscar Poole, the north Georgia barbecue king who made state GOP conventions fun with his banana-yellow suit and Uncle Sam hat, has died. If anyone has memorial service information, please pass it along -- and we'll be happy to share.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Late last week, former Georgia congressman John Barrow sought to join a federal lawsuit filed by Anne Glenn Weltner, the widow of a state Supreme Court justice, and two other citizens, challenging the state's decision to do away with an election to fill the state Supreme Court seat of Keith Blackwell.

In a written argument, Barrow’s attorney called a state Supreme Court decision upholding the decision gives “a sitting justice unfettered discretion to exercise veto power over election results.” To elaborate:

[A] sitting justice may run for reelection, lose, nullify the election by resigning, and then be appointed by the Governor to serve for two more years. The same justice could then, after serving the two-year term, run for election again, lose, resign, etc. Or, a sitting justice could not run for reelection but, unhappy with the people's choice, resign after the election, nullify the result, and give the Governor the power to appoint the justice or someone else.

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As Georgia officials prepared for another round of protests late Saturday, some candidates did what they usually do: Sought to raise campaign cash.

Among them was Senate candidate Doug Collins, who sent a tweet around 8 p.m. about his “fast approaching” fundraising deadline. “It’s time for us to end this month strong,” he said in a video.

That drew a sharp condemnation from U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign, eager to paint him as a political careerist.

“It really couldn’t be clearer,” Fweeted her spokesman Stephen Lawson. “As Atlanta faces an unprecedented crisis, leaders like @KLoeffler @GovKemp @KeishaBottoms are taking action and working on solutions. Doug Collins is focused on what he’s always focused on: himself.”

Collins, who condemned the violent protests, didn’t seem to mind the critique. He sent a similar tweet Sunday night.

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In non-pandemic, non-civil unrest news: U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff just stroked his campaign a $450,000 check, fueling speculation about his strategy in an unpredictable June 9 primary to challenge Republican incumbent David Perdue.

One of Ossoff’s top Democratic rivals, Sarah Riggs Amico, also dipped deep into her bank account in the final stretch before the vote. She loaned her campaign another $180,000, and she’s now spent roughly $1.1 million of her own cash to finance her bid.

Ossoff, an investigative journalist, tops the field in fundraising and leads the few public polls of the race thanks in part to high name recognition from his nationally-watched 2017 campaign for the Sixth District congressional seat.

Some veteran operatives saw his cash infusion as proof that he's maneuvering to win the race outright and avoid an August runoff. One of his top opponents, meanwhile, said it was a mark of weakness heading toward next week's vote.

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If you missed our Political Insiders virtual town hall last Wednesday, catch the replay on the AJC's Youtube channel or Facebook page. We chatted for over an hour about the upcoming election, candidates to watch and how COVID-19 is impacting it all.