After spending the night in jail, Morehouse double major Ronald Comeaux describes how he was arrested while marching downtown during protests in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson for the Mike Brown shooting, on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, in Atlanta. DAVID TULIS / AJC SPECIAL
Photo: David Tulis
Photo: David Tulis

Atlanta mayor, arrested demonstrators discuss Ferguson protests

During a news conference Wednesday morning to discuss Tuesday’s protests and arrests, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed thanked the peaceful participants and issued a stern warning to potential troublemakers.

“I want to start by thanking the protesters who made the decision to protest peacefully,” Reed told reporters. “More than 1,000 people participated in the protests yesterday but there was a small splinter group that chose not to demonstrate peacefully.”

“If you move toward the downtown connector, you’re going to be arrested,” Reed said, flanked by Atlanta police Chief George Turner.

The news conference followed a day of peaceful protests in response to a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. By evening, the protests around downtown Atlanta turned more intense.

The mayor said between nine and 11 properties were damaged.

“Don’t be mad at police preventing you from destroying other people’s property,” Reed said. “I fully support protesting, certainly among our young people, but you have to do it in a way that doesn’t place other people at risk.”

Two dozen people were arrested. Most were arrested on obstruction or failure to disperse charges, though there was one felony weapons arrest, Turner said at a 10:45 p.m. briefing Tuesday. During Wednesday’s news conference, he said that two journalists were among those arrested, but added that he plans to dismiss charges against them.

In addition to the two dozen arrests made by Atlanta police, Georgia State Patrol troopers arrested two protesters, GSP spokeswoman Tracey Watson said.

Spenser Avery Gould, 23, of Cumming, was charged with aggravated assault on a peace officer, wearing a mask, hood or device which conceals identity of wearer, obstruction of a law enforcement officer and interference with government property.

Troopers also arrested Frema Awuku, 21, of Augusta, and charged her with disorderly conduct, Watson said.

“One trooper was injured when a protester lobbed a lit traffic flare and it struck the trooper in the neck area,” Watson said. “He was treated and released from the hospital.”

On Wednesday morning, many of the two dozen protesters arrested Tuesday were released from the Atlanta City Jail after spending the night locked up.

Several of the released protesters talked to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about their experiences and what they believe led to their arrests.

Kirsten Strouble of Austell was one of those arrested after dozens of protesters blocked traffic on the Downtown Connector.

“I got arrested because somebody else was throwing rocks,” she said. “One hit me, another rock hit a cop car, and a cop came up behind me and grabbed me and said, ‘Yeah, you.’”

Strouble said a group of protesters came to pull her away, but police “started pepper-spraying everybody.” Police pulled her by her hoodie, “choked me and dragged me away.”

Awuku, another protester arrested on the interstate, also said that the rock-throwing seemed to be what set off the arrests.

Awuku, a Georgia State University student from Buford, said one protester threw a flare that hit an officer in the neck, and another one threw a rock at the window of a patrol car.

“At that point, the police felt in danger,” Awuku said. “One police officer got hurt, he got something on his neck, as well as rocks being thrown at his window to crack it, and that obviously shows violence. So at that point, they’re going to respond to violence with violence.”

Ronald Comeaux, a sophomore biology and philosophy major at Morehouse College, was nowhere near the interstate when he was arrested.

“I was on the sidewalk, protesting peacefully, exercising my rights,” he said.

Comeaux said police got “really aggravated” with the protesters, and told them to cross to the other side of the street.

“As I was in the crosswalk crossing, I noticed a police officer forcefully push one of the citizens,” he said.

“So I asked the police officer, ‘Why did you do that?’” Comeaux said. “I asked him if he pushed the citizen and he said, ‘Yes, I [expletive] did.’”

Comeaux said he then asked the officer for his badge number.

“At that point, he got frustrated with me, looked at me and gave me this angry look,” he said. “He looked at his fellow officers that were surrounding me and told them to take me down.”

Comeaux said he was thrown to the sidewalk and charged with disorderly conduct, a charge he disputes.

“I don’t agree with that charge,” he said. “I was simply asking a police officer for his badge number, and he was aggravated with everyone and took his aggravation out on me.”

The arrest “made me more determined and made me actually realize I wasn’t protesting in vain,” Comeaux said. “Police brutality actually happens.”

Turner said his force is prepared for any additional protests that take place over the holiday weekend.

“All of our officers’ vacations have been canceled and we’re here until this event ends,” he said.

— Photographer David Tulis contributed to this report.

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