In downtown Atlanta, Saturday night’s response to George Floyd’s death began as a protest and ended with window-smashing, widespread vandalism and more than 150 arrests.
By 6 p.m., more than 200 people had gathered outside Centennial Olympic Park. The protesters shouted slogans like “no justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe!”
Brandon Bell of Atlanta carried a sign that declared “white silence is the accomplice of evil.”
“African Americans can’t just do it by ourselves,” Bell said. “I know all white people aren’t racist. But we need white people to speak up. It’s time for systematic change.”
Michelle Caruso and Jeremiah Long of Atlanta brought a sign that called on police to “protect and serve all brothers and sisters.” Caruso said the sign reflected her Christian faith. And she said she has family members in Massachusetts who are police.
“I also appreciate the ones who are out here protecting us and keeping things peaceful,” she said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms put a curfew into place for the city after Friday night’s chaotic protests that led to vandalism and looting in parts of downtown. As the 9 p.m. curfew approached, the number of marchers gathered in the streets thinned slightly.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Atlanta Protests
But it was evident that some in the crowd were itching for a confrontation. A few tossed water bottles at police officers. Several were arrested for blocking the street.
As more police arrived, some of the shouts became angrier and obscene. One protester shouted “let’s start shooting back!” Another called a black officer a “sellout.”
Police lined the street around the corner where the protesters gathered, keeping them on the sidewalk. So the protesters marched several blocks before returning to the park. Confrontations became more frequent – some in the crowd tossed bottles, and police rushed in to make arrests, sometimes sending protesters scattering.
The standoff remained tense until protesters again set out – this time on a long, looping march that led them along Peachtree Street, across the Connector and past the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The marchers were peaceful, but there were signs the night would turn ugly: A few marchers gathered stones along the way and put them in their pockets.
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Many marchers blocked streets as they slowly moved back downtown. At one point, police moved in to arrest several people. But protesters reassembled downtown, marching from one confrontation with police to another. At least once, police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Vandals left a trail of smashed windows and graffiti in their wake. At one shop on Williams Street, someone threw a firework through a broken window. It exploded but did not set the shop ablaze.
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Shortly before 11 p.m., private security guard Arthur Harden paced outside his building on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue. Someone had smashed the windows. He shouted at marchers as they passed by.
“This is a black-owned business!” he said. “What did this building do to you?”
It did little good. While he watched, someone spray-painted an obscenity on the building.
By midnight, the confrontations had petered out. Here and there, police held a handful of people handcuffed on the sidewalk. At 1:30 a.m., Atlanta police spokesman Sgt. John Chafee said 70 people had been arrested. In a televised interview Sunday morning, Bottoms gave an updated tally of arrests: 157.
Janice Willbourn was cleaning up her shop, Willbourn Sisters Designs, where vandals had smashed the windows with her and friend Janice Welch inside.
“We heard gunshots. We heard ‘boom,’” Wilbourn said. ”We hid on the floor.
“This is devastating,” she said through the broken shop window. “We’re here for God. This is our ministry. This is our family legacy.”
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