Police enforce curfew as protesters gather for third day in Atlanta

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Protesters gathered for a third night in downtown Atlanta on Sunday, holding mostly peaceful demonstrations amid heavy police presence in parts of the city rocked by violence earlier in the weekend.

Many of the hundreds of demonstrators who marched through Atlanta to gather outside Centennial Olympic Park dispersed after a 9 p.m. curfew took effect, though officers arrested or detained dozens who did not.

Gov. Brian Kemp called it a “really good night” as law enforcement officials flooded the streets to prevent violence during protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Floyd died earlier this week after a Minneapolis officer pinned him down with a knee on his neck while he was handcuffed. For days, Atlanta and other cities have seen widespread marches, violence and arrests.

» RELATED: Two Atlanta officers fired for excessive force, mayor says

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced Sunday that two police officers were fired after complaints that they used excessive force, including tasing a Spelman College student, during the city's curfew crackdown Saturday night.

Video of the incident was shared widely on social media.

"Some time during the night, I saw very disturbing video of two young college students who were in downtown Atlanta yesterday evening. The use of force is never acceptable," Bottoms said.

Earlier on Sunday, Bottoms  extended the city's curfew, which will take effect at 9 p.m. and continue until sunrise Monday.

See the AJC’s complete coverage of the Atlanta protests here.

Here are some other updates:

'It got pretty hairy'

In an interview late Sunday, Kemp said the heavy police presence made it another “really good night” in thwarting violence from demonstrators who gathered in downtown Atlanta and other parts of the state.

The governor told Channel 2 Action News that “it got pretty hairy” in a few spots of Atlanta, citing tense clashes with law enforcement near the Capitol and outside Centennial Park, but that authorities were able to defuse the situation.

“It looked like it was going to be bad there for a minute, but we were able to get on top of it.”

The governor authorized as many as 3,000 Georgia National Guard troops to reinforce police officers and state authorities as protesters gathered in Atlanta, Athens and Savannah on Sunday.

He said the deaths of George Floyd while he was in police custody and Ahmaud Arbery, who was gunned down while running outside of Brunswick, have “outraged everyone” but that authorities had no tolerance for another round of violence like the one that rocked Atlanta Friday.

He also expressed concern that the protests have shifted attention away from the state’s coronavirus approach. On Monday, new rules go into effect that allow bars and nightclubs reopen if they follow safety guidelines, and clear the way for more large gatherings.

“I hope the break in the news coverage and the focus on the protests doesn’t disrupt people remembering we still need to practice social distancing, good hand sanitation practices.”

Tense clashes

About a half hour before the citywide curfew went into effect, large groups of protesters converged at the CNN Center meeting spot at Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park Drive NW, the sound of fireworks began a couple hundred feet away.

Protesters began throwing full water bottles and other objects at police officers assembled as a barricade at CNN. The officers responded with tear gas, causing the crowd of several hundred people to disperse. Several people, armed with milk and other treatments, began tending to protesters who had been injured by the gas.

A rally near the AUC

Around 4 p.m., alumni and students of Historically Black Colleges and Universities gathered at Cleophus R. Johnson Park before a peaceful protest march to downtown. Before the march, organizers of the group called #HBCU4BlackLives told the crowd that they want to see change and outcomes to injustice.

#HBCUForBlackLives was met with drivers honking horns and shouting words of praise during the march with hundreds of students and alumni from historically black colleges stretched a park near the Atlanta University Center downtown Atlanta.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Meanwhile, law enforcement and National Guard vehicles also moved into downtown.

Shortly after 5 p.m., the protesters held a two-minute moment of silence downtown.

Co-organizer Jauan T. Durbin, a Morehouse College graduate led the march. During a pause in the march and before a two minute moment of silence he said that the day had come for everyone to be accepted regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

“Read the room,” Durbin said, regarding the diverse marchers. “I want everyone to turn all the way around and look around you.”

Along the route marchers held signs reading, “Truth is with the oppressed,” “America’s 1619 Sin,” “We have a right to destroy what we built” and several more sayings. They also shouted, “I can’t breathe” and repeated the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Trayvon Martin.

Meanwhile, a separate group of protesters made their way past the Georgia State Capitol.

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

Around 6 p.m., the #HBCUForBlackLives gathered at the corner of Ted Turner Drive and Marietta Street near Centennial Olympic Park, which has been the center of the protests the last couple of nights.

Nearby, police officers wearing tactical gear stood in formation at the intersection of Centennial Olympic Drive and Marietta Street as protesters from the #HBCUForBlackLives march made a stop near the CNN center.

As the group of protesters continued to grow downtown, MARTA announced it will once again suspend service at 9 p.m. Sunday evening.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Paula-Marie Kule said she came downtown Sunday to support a black community continuing to seek answers and solutions days after yet another black man died after an interaction with a white police officer.

“It feels like we just came out of this pandemic together, a long mutual hardship that affected all of us, and black people have to deal with the emotional burden of all this anger and frustration,” said Kule, 30, a Cuban-American woman from Atlanta. “I’m here to show we’re in this together.”

Johnika Williams said she came out to downtown on Sunday because she wants things to be different for future generations.

“I am a single black mother. I believe this movement today will improve the future for our babies,” Williams said, who held a sign that read, “I march for our children’s future.”

Jermaine White-Reid said the events of the last week heighten worries he has about a potential encounter with police.
"I'm a black man. I could be riding to work, get pulled over and end up dead," said White-Reid, 30, of Fairburn.

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday aggravate wounds still open from the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who authorities said was shot to death by two white men while out jogging in Southeast Georgia. Messages of nonviolence ring hollow while many search for answers, he said.

“I’m just tired of seeing the same thing with no results,” he said. “The people protecting us are mainly the ones hurting us. You shouldn’t have to fear your protectors.”

Credit: Marlon Walker

Credit: Marlon Walker

JeWell White-Reid said it has been tough dealing with what she calls trauma from witnessing so many black people being killed by police.

“It’s definitely been an emotional experience,” she said, adding she’s trying to “balance supporting the cause and taking care of myself.”

Tonja and Darryl Dixon of Atlanta were out Sunday driving around celebrating their anniversary. With most of Atlanta still shut down due to the coronavirus, they headed downtown to walk around and check in on the third day of protests.

“It could’ve been me,” said Darryl Dixon, 57, as he paid for parking across the street from Centennial Olympic Park. “They’re scared of black men. That’s why they do what they do.”

Tonja Dixon, 46, said the looting and property damage that’s taken place the past two nights needs to evolve into something more constructive that would build toward solving issues with racial inequities.

“You need to vote,” she said. “And not just walk in there just to vote for Obama ... or Trump. Know who you’re voting for, the ones in between who can get things done, too.”

“Because the laws need to be changed,” Darryl Dixon chimed in. “We need the same laws for everybody.”

Around 6:30 p.m., a large group of protesters began making their way down Marietta Street toward Atlantic Station.

About an hour later, a large group of protesters sat on the 17th Street bridge. At one point the group chanted “no justice, no peace.”

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

By 8 p.m., the group headed back toward downtown, up Midtown’s Spring Street.

About a half hour before the citywide curfew took effect, two separate groups of protesters all converged at Centennial Olympic Park.

As the 9 p.m. curfew went into place, tensions rose in downtown Atlanta. Near Centennial Olympic Park, police started to advance and fired gas and a mass of people started to flee.

Shortly after 9 p.m., the standoff between demonstrators and law enforcement was near the downtown Ferris wheel.