By Asia Simone Burns - The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionJoshua Sharpe - The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionJohn Spink - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Updated July 6, 2020
Atlanta police and sanitation crews have finished removing protesters and their belongings from outside the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an officer last month.
The last concrete barricade was put in place around noon. Some of the protesters milled nearby while a worker from the BP gas station next door pulled boards off the windows.
Monday’s cleanup followed a violent holiday weekend that ended with 31 injuries and five deaths. The youngest victim was 8-year-old Secoriea Turner, who was fatally shot Saturday while sitting in a car near the restaurant.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms denounced the violence in an emotional news conference at police headquarters in which she and Turner’s family urged people to come forward with information about the girl’s killers.
About 9:30 a.m. Monday, uniformed officers and multiple workers in neon attire tossed flowers and other items from a makeshift memorial outside the Wendy’s into garbage bags.
The site has served as ground zero for protests since Brooks was shot in the parking lot following an attempted DUI arrest in the drive-thru line June 12. The restaurant was destroyed during a large protest the next day. Three people have been arrested on arson charges in connection with the incident.
“They’re trashing what we built! This is not peaceful!” a protester who identified herself as Lady A yelled at police as they cleared the site. “This is a peaceful spot! We don’t know nothing about a shooting! They know that!”
Turner was riding in a car with her mother and an adult friend on I-75/85 when they exited onto University Avenue shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday, police spokesman Sgt. John Chafee said.
The driver tried to turn into a parking lot in the 1200 block of Pryor Road but was confronted by a “group of armed individuals who had blocked the entrance,” he said.
“At some point, someone in that group opened fire on the vehicle, striking it multiple times and striking the child who was inside,” Chafee said. The driver took Turner to Atlanta Medical Center, but she did not survive, according to police.
“You shot and killed a baby,” Bottoms said during the Sunday news conference. “And there wasn’t just one shooter, there were at least two shooters.”
She said the protesters needed to leave the restaurant. Hours later, Gov. Brian Kemp followed that demand with a warning of his own.
“This recent trend of lawlessness is outrageous and unacceptable,” he said in a tweet. “Georgians, including those in uniform, need to be protected from crime and violence. While we stand ready to assist local leaders in restoring peace and maintaining order, we won’t hesitate to take action without them.”
Those who have been spending time at the site, which they hope to see turned into a community center in Brooks’ honor, said the shooters were not from their group. Before authorities started clearing the Wendy’s on Monday, the demonstrators, who call themselves “RB Memorial Sleep-In Activists,” said they were cooperating with investigators.
"(We) would like to extend our deepest condolences and sympathy to the bereaved family and friends of the young 8-year old girl who was killed," Lady A, who has taken a leading role in organizing at the property, said in a videotaped statement. "To the family, we stand with you and are here for you."
As crews discarded items from the memorial, she pointed out repeatedly that Turner’s shooting didn’t happen in the parking lot of the Wendy’s, but down the street. She said Bottoms was wrong when she said that someone from the Wendy’s fired at the car carrying the child.
“We aren’t kid killers,” Lady A said.
She was sitting on a bench at the spot when Brooks was gunned down when she turned and saw a worker throwing flowers that had been lined up on the curb into the trash. Lady A, who declined multiple times to give her full name, stood up and began to scream and cry in outrage.
Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who represents the area, saw the man throwing away the flowers and walked over to tell him to stop. For Lady A, it was too little, too late.
She said Sheperd promised last week that the property would be barricaded, but the memorial, which features various forms of art and slogans spray-painted on the pavement in Brooks’ honor, would be allowed to stay.
“I talked to you,” Lady A hollered toward the councilwoman, who had walked across the parking lot. “You think if we had something to do with a murder, you think we would be here?”
As Lady A screamed and cried, Sheperd told reporters she did in fact promise the memorial could stay, but that was before the shooting happened nearby.
Asked about the goal of the protesters to turn the property into a community center in Brooks’ honor, Sheperd said she wasn’t sure.
“I’m not going to advocate for that (now) because the people who live in this community have to have input,” she said.
Sheperd said her constituents have been emailing her since the child’s death saying it is time for the site to be shut down.
Protesters said the site isn’t a problem. They described it as a sacred place where they have gathered to remember Brooks and talk about how to make change in the community.
Sheperd said the promises she made last week can’t stand after the murder.
Lady A said that means Sheperd must leave office. She vowed to organize against her.
During the cleanup, a police homicide detective passed out flyers with Turner’s face and information about a $10,000 reward from Crime Stoppers. He asked everyone if they had seen anything when the child was shot. Some people spoke with him, while others declined or simply said they had no information to give.
A neighborhood resident, Zeno Rivera, rode up on a bike to see what the city was doing. It was sad, Rivera said, that the memorial was shut down.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Rivera, who has taken part in protests in response to Brooks’ death. “This was supposed to be a community space. Now we’re not even allowed to have our space to grieve. What are we supposed to do? Are they gonna put another Wendy’s here?”