Metro Atlanta’s response to a video released Friday of the brutal killing of Tyre Nichols by Memphis, Tennessee, police officers spurred people to take part in weekend demonstrations but activists avoided confrontations and violence.

On Saturday, a group of about 70 people marched around Centennial Olympic Park demanding justice for Nichols and his family, calling for police to be held accountable and for policing reform. The gathering came after Friday night’s protest that was also held at the park.

On Sunday evening, a vigil led by the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, a civil rights organization that promotes civic engagement on issues of racial equity, was held in downtown Decatur.

About 100 people gathered under the gazebo on the Decatur square, sheltering from the rain.

Mawuli Davis, an attorney and a leader of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, led the proceedings. He started by thanking them for bearing witness of Tyre Nichols’ brutal death and for “acknowledging that we, as a community, won’t allow these deaths to just become routine.”

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Gov. Brian Kemp — who had issued a state of emergency amid the news in Memphis after recent violence in Atlanta — along with Mayor Andre Dickens and other public officials pleaded with residents to avoid violence in possible weekend protests over police brutality. By Sunday afternoon, the city appeared to have avoided repeats of previous demonstrations against killings by police officers that took dangerous turns.

Despite community feelings of anger and frustration over another killing of a Black man by police, the Rev. Shanan E. Jones, president of Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, said he believes the response is due to the swift dismissal and arrests of the five police officers who are shown on video beating the 29-year-old Nichols with batons and kicking him in the head.

Nichols, who had been living in Memphis with his family since the pandemic, died Jan. 10, three days after the beating following a traffic stop.

The five Black police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were charged with second-degree murder, kidnapping and other charges. The city also disbanded the police department’s Scorpion unit.

“I believe that Memphis has set a bar that is moving in the right direction and it’s a bar for police force agencies to really look at in terms of what to do in cases of abusive authority,” Jones said.

That response, he said, gave dignity to Nichols’ life.

Jones and others met with police officials in Atlanta and surrounding cities before Nichols’ death and plan to continue that dialogue.

Nichols’ death by police followed other high-profile cases of police brutality against Black men and women.

In March 2020, for instance, Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker was in her apartment with her boyfriend when she was shot and killed by Louisville, Kentucky, police during a botched raid.

Her death and others — including that of Rayshard Brooks, who was fatally shot by Atlanta police after a struggle in the parking lot of a Wendy’s that same year — galvanized people across the United States to call for justice and police reform.

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Last August, more than two years after Brooks’ death, the case against the two officers involved was dropped after an investigation by a special prosecutor.

Both killings sparked outrage and major protests — some that turned violent — across the world.

“Most of our protests have been peaceful if we can keep anarchists out,” said Jones. He said several organizations recently came together to talk about how others have “embedded themselves in our movement and causes all kinds of behavior that has really taken us in a direction we didn’t want to go.”

The Rev. Wilbur T. Purvis III, pastor of Destiny World Church, felt disappointed, frustrated and angry after the Memphis killing.

“We don’t have a chance to grieve” from one incident to the other, he said.

So in the middle of Sunday morning’s service, Purvis stopped and asked all the men and boys to stand and lock arms to show solidarity and the connection between them. They repeated a creed and affirmations.

In all more than 160 men took part, he said.

Credit: Destiny World Church

Credit: Destiny World Church

“We’re in this fight together, regardless of what side of town we live in or what is our socio-economic status, ” Purvis said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s in Memphis, Atlanta or St. Louis.”

He said the Memphis incident was “shameful. It’s one thing to lose a brother to the brutality of the police; it’s worse in this scenario because it was a brother killing a brother. ... At some point we have to get over our self-hatred.”

With Sunday evening’s event in Decatur labeled a vigil rather than a protest, more calm and quiet were expected.

“The Georgia National Guard will remain ready to quickly respond if called upon,” said a Georgia National Guard spokesperson. Kemp signed an emergency order Thursday allowing him to deploy as many as 1,000 Georgia National Guard troops following the violent unrest in Atlanta the previous weekend over a proposed public safety center and the death of an activist at a protest at the site.

The order, seen as a precautionary measure by the governor’s office, expires Feb. 9.

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This weekend’s gatherings were in contrast to protests just a week earlier targeting a proposed $90 million public safety training center on 85 acres of currently forested land in southern DeKalb County.

On Jan. 18, Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, 26, was shot and killed by state troopers conducting a “clearing operation” at the site. A trooper was wounded in a shooting, and Teran died when authorities returned fire.

Six people were arrested on Jan. 21 and charged with domestic terrorism, among other offenses, after they allegedly threw bricks through windows, spray-painted buildings and used fireworks to set a police car ablaze during a protest that moved from Underground Atlanta to downtown Atlanta that night.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

At the Decatur gathering Sunday, when Davis invited others to speak, leaders of local churches came to the microphone as did people from such groups as the Workers World Party and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

So did Eli Kinyanjui, 12, a middle-schooler in DeKalb County.

“Dr. Martin Luther King once said he had a dream that white and Black people would come together in peace,” said Eli, who managed to distill in half a minute what had brought these people together under the rain as darkness fell. “What I’ve heard on the news, it’s not happening. We promised that it would happen, but it isn’t happening. We need to work together and make it happen.”