Lawyers, clergy urge Atlanta officials to drop 600 protesters’ charges

Protesters and police face off in downtown Atlanta Tuesday evening, Aug. 25, 2020. 
BEN GRAY FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
Protesters and police face off in downtown Atlanta Tuesday evening, Aug. 25, 2020. BEN GRAY FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Ben@bengray.com

Credit: Ben@bengray.com

Dozens of attorneys, activists and clergy members are calling for Atlanta officials to drop charges against hundreds of people arrested during anti-police-brutality protests this summer.

Nearly 600 people were arrested during demonstrations across the city following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the killing of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta cop. Half of those arrested were charged with violating the 9 p.m. curfew that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms instituted in an attempt to curb unrest after a few instances of rioting amid mostly peaceful protests. Most others were charged with blocking roads or disorderly conduct.

Those calling for the charges to be tossed asked the mayor, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and city solicitor Raines Carter to work together to keep the protesters from facing jail time, fees and fines, trouble getting employment, and immigration consequences.

A spokesman for the mayor said Bottoms “does believe that each situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.” It isn’t clear if such an evaluation is planned by the mayor’s office.

The DA said he would compile a list of protesters charged with felonies and review each, adding: “Our office does not believe citizens should be charged for the expression of First Amendment rights.”

The solicitor didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“Citizens protested aggressive policing and were too often met with aggressive policing,” said an open letter distributed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and signed by 48 lawyers, professors, clergy members and activists. “As mayors and prosecutors around the country have realized, these arrests fail to respect the free speech rights of citizens motivated, and sometimes awakened, to protest white supremacy in policing and in society. Those mayors and prosecutors dropped the charges, and we ask that you do the same now.”

Specialist O'Donnell stands guard in front of the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta on July 8, 2020, after the Georgia National Guard were dispatched in response to a surge of violence in Atlanta and the ransacking of the Georgia State Patrol's headquarters. Gov. Brian Kemp issued an emergency declaration on July 6 following shootings that left five dead in Atlanta, including an 8-year-old girl. Kemp said peaceful protests had been hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda. (JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)
Caption
Specialist O'Donnell stands guard in front of the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta on July 8, 2020, after the Georgia National Guard were dispatched in response to a surge of violence in Atlanta and the ransacking of the Georgia State Patrol's headquarters. Gov. Brian Kemp issued an emergency declaration on July 6 following shootings that left five dead in Atlanta, including an 8-year-old girl. Kemp said peaceful protests had been hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda. (JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The letter’s authors were referring to actions by officials in Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; Fort Worth, Texas, and elsewhere.

The authors said the mayor’s executive orders related to the protests and curfew were overly broad and targeted political speech. In announcing the curfew, the mayor said she respects everyone’s rights but couldn’t allow destructive behavior such as what took place on May 29, when the CNN Center and other properties downtown were damaged.

The letter asks Atlanta and Fulton officials to “at the very least” drop the charges faced by protesters that don’t involve allegations of violence or property destruction.

The letter’s 48 signatories include representatives from the Southern Center, Women on the Rise, the Working Families Party, the ACLU of Georgia, Park Avenue Baptist Church, the massive Evershed Sutherland law firm, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and others.