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Demonstrators take to Atlanta streets for a second night

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Hundreds of Georgia National Guardsmen deployed

Saturday brought another night of protests to Atlanta streets and a more formidable response from law enforcement charged with keeping the peace.

“We don’t want to have to detain anyone, but we will maintain order in the streets of Atlanta tonight,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in announcing a 9 p.m. curfew.

In a video address, Gov. Brian Kemp called for Georgians to unite peacefully after a chaotic night of looting and destruction Friday in downtown and Buckhead.

“My fellow Georgians, we now have a choice,” he said. “Do we come together and face these challenges united? Or do we let our differences divide us even further?”

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Shortly after the video appeared online, protesters started gathering in front of Kemp’s official residence on West Paces Ferry Road.

“Our streets!” the crowd chanted as people blocked the road in front of the Georgia Governor’s Mansion.

MORE: Atlanta orders curfew, Kemp says authorities won't 'back down' as new protests loom

The crowd started to disperse once officers started ticketing their cars and threatening to have them towed.

A prime swath of Buckhead’s retail real estate, meanwhile, became a staging ground for various state agencies. Responders from the Georgia National Guard, State Patrol, Game Warden and Department of Corrections amassed in the Lenox Square Parking lot.

And in downtown Atlanta, police had escorted two people out of the the intersection of Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park Drive by about 6:30 p.m. It was unclear whether they were arrested or released. It was a marked contrast from Friday night’s hands-off approach, with Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields saying early in the evening that protesters could stand in the streets if they liked and that she wasn’t looking to make lots of arrests.

The tolerant posture shifted after Friday’s peaceful march devolved into destructive riots that left stores and restaurants ransacked in both downtown and Buckhead. The gathering had been planned to express outrage over the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis officer pinned him down with a knee on his neck while he was handcuffed. Officials say agitators with nothing but mayhem in mind hijacked the civic-minded event.

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“We are going to be ready and we are going to be there, just like we always are,” Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr., the state’s adjutant general, said Saturday morning. “We would be foolish not to be in a posture to respond after what happened last night.”

Elsewhere in metro Atlanta, officials were in preparation mode Saturday. The Gwinnett County Police Department responded to protesters in and around the area of Sugarloaf Mills Mall while Dunwoody authorities were on alert after hundreds massed at Perimeter Mall around 2 a.m. on Saturday. Things ended without incident after a robust response, the Dunwoody department said.

The Georgia National Guard wasn’t looking for conflict either, Carden said. Kemp’s state of emergency declaration gave Guardsmen the authority to make arrests, but they had not done so as of Saturday morning. Some 2,300 Georgia Guardsmen have been dispatched to respond to the coronavirus pandemic by cleaning long-term care homes, testing patients, aiding hospitals and assisting food banks.

“I have plenty of gas in the tank,” Carden said.

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Bottoms, who drew national attention with her fiery admonition of Friday night’s lawlessness, began Saturday’s address by reading the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem.”

“We recognize that there are still so many issues and challenges that need to be addressed, but they will not be resolved today,” she said afterward. “But again, we cannot be lost on why people are angry and what we’ve witnessed time and time again in this country.

“I want to recognize those feelings and let you know we understand those feelings. But there will be a peaceful way in which we can resolve, discuss, and continue to work through and push through the systematic issues that plague us as a country.”

Police have arrested four people protesting near the Sugarloaf Mills Mall in Lawrenceville, said Gwinnett County police spokesman Collin Flynn. One of those arrested was seen in a video clip posted on social media in which he was being punched in the face by an officer. More than two hours after the video was posted, Flynn said he didn’t know the officer’s name or whether he was still on the scene.

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There were more than 50 officers at the mall, including some from the police and sheriff’s department and other local police agencies.

“Once the situation has concluded, we will address any force used and an investigation will be completed with transparent results to the public,” Flynn said.

Between 100 and 150 protestors were in the area of the mall, and most were protesting peacefully, Flynn said. Still, there has been some property damage – the windshield of a police car was smashed – and Flynn said there had been “chatter” about protestors trying to get on I-85.

“We will not allow them to get on the Interstate,” he said. “We will block all access.”

The likelihood of protestors or drivers getting hurt if people were able to access the highway, he said, was “extremely high.”

The crowds at Sugarloaf Mills began to disperse just before 9:30 p.m., said Flynn, who added officers would continue keeping watch.

“Hopefully,” he said, “things have died down here tonight.”

- AJC reporters David Wickert, Arlinda Broady, Arielle Kass, Ariel Hart, Zach Hansen, Raisa Habersham and Johnny Edwards contributed to this article