Atlanta law enforcement officials and community leaders expressed support for peaceful demonstrations ahead of the release of body-worn camera footage of the alleged killing of a man by five officers in Memphis, Tennessee.
“We are closely monitoring the events in Memphis and are prepared to support peaceful protests in our city,” Atlanta police said in a statement Friday morning referencing the death of Tyre Nichols.
“I would hope that the release of the video would occur a little bit earlier in the day so that activists and people that are going to do peaceful protest would have an opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Gerald Griggs, an attorney and president of the Georgia NAACP, told Channel 2 Action News.
Demonstrations are expected across the country this weekend after five former Memphis police officers were charged with murder in connection with Nichols’ death. Nichols was involved in a confrontation with police during a Jan. 7 traffic stop and was severely injured, the Associated Press reported. He died in the hospital three days later.
All five officers were fired prior to their indictments by a grand jury.
Memphis officials plan to release bodycam footage of the incident Friday evening, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. The release of similar videos, like those that showed the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, inspired spontaneous gatherings and planned demonstrations around the U.S.
The incident has brought strong condemnation not just from activists but from law enforcement officials as well.
“Those who are sworn to protect and serve should be held to the highest standard,” Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said in a statement Friday. “There are absolutely no excuses to be made for the horrific actions that will be seen on the video. The five officers involved should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but this case should not serve as an indictment against the men and women who serve honorably every day.”
Cobb County police released a statement Friday afternoon saying they were increasing patrols in the area, and that tactical plans were in place in preparation of the video’s release.
“Suffice it to say that these plans are in place and there is communication with other law enforcement agencies should there be a need to assist others or should a need for assistance arise here in the county,” the release said. “We have had peaceful protests in Cobb County in recent years, and our goal remains the same now as it was before: to safeguard the folks who exercise their right of peaceful protest. We vow to keep the peace and maintain order in the process.”
Law enforcement leaders from throughout Cobb also held a news conference Friday afternoon to detail their support for the community, while calling on demonstrations to remain peaceful. Some said they heard audio of the incident, which they suggested was disturbing.
Tensions are already high in Atlanta after protests related to a separate police killing turned violent and a police patrol car was burned last weekend. The event was a response to the fatal shooting of Manuel Teran, an activist who was encamped at the site of Atlanta’s planned police and firefighter training center on a forested property in DeKalb County. The GBI, which is conducting an independent investigation of Teran’s shooting, said he shot and wounded a Georgia State Patrol trooper before he was killed.
Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency Thursday that would allow him to deploy up to 1,000 Georgia National Guard troops in the event of any violent unrest, the AJC reported.
DeKalb Sheriff Melody Maddox issued a statement Friday afternoon that supported the state of emergency while saying her office supported citizens’ rights to lawfully protest.
“The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office is already operating on high alert following recent violent protests in the metro area and in light of anticipated nationwide civil unrest,” the statement read. “We remain in a state of readiness should we need to escalate activity to secure county judicial facilities and to protect staff and individuals in custody at the DeKalb County Jail.”
Griggs said he hopes the governor will not activate any National Guard troops from their standby status.
“I strongly urge the governor, one, not to call the National Guard, but two, if you are calling them, they need bodycams on,” Griggs said in an interview with Channel 2.
“Georgians respect peaceful protests, but do not tolerate acts of violence against persons or property,” Kemp wrote in the order, which expires Feb. 9.
In its Friday morning statement, the Atlanta Police Department struck a conciliatory tone.
“We understand and share in the outrage surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols,” the statement said. “Police officers are expected to conduct themselves in a compassionate, competent and constitutional manner and these officers failed Tyre, their communities and their profession. We ask that demonstrations be safe and peaceful.”
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