Bottoms pledges to review Atlanta police use of force as protests grow

200603-Atlanta-Atlanta Police Officer Brandon Hayes fist bumps a demonstrator Wednesday evening June 3 in Downtown Atlanta after explaining that he became a police officer after Trayvon Martin was killed because he wanted to make a difference. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution



200603-Atlanta-Atlanta Police Officer Brandon Hayes fist bumps a demonstrator Wednesday evening June 3 in Downtown Atlanta after explaining that he became a police officer after Trayvon Martin was killed because he wanted to make a difference. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday implored mayors across the country to review police use-of-force policies as protests against police brutality and racial injustice continued to grip Atlanta and cities from coast to coast.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a tweet she would accept Obama's challenge, which came just three days after she fired two police officers for their roles in a violent arrest over the weekend of two college students that triggered national outrage. The Fulton County District Attorney's Office this week charged six officers in total in connection with the incident.

“I will issue an Executive Order establishing a Commission of stakeholders and organizers to examine our use of force policies and call upon them to make recommendations accordingly,” Bottoms said on Twitter.

Protests in Atlanta have raged for six nights and have since spread across the region, from Peachtree City to Braselton.

Complete Coverage: Atlanta protests

Wednesday’s demonstration remained peaceful as the city of Atlanta’s 9 p.m. curfew neared and crowds of more than 1,000 assembled before a host of law enforcement officers and National Guard members, many clad in riot gear, near Centennial Olympic Park.

“I don’t see a riot here! Why are you in riot gear?!” protesters chanted outside CNN Center.

Protesters converge in downtown Atlanta for a sixth day of protests in the city.  (Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

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Demonstrators and authorities clashed Friday night outside CNN Center, turning violent and leading to damaged businesses and burned police cars. But protests since have been largely peaceful.

“We hope that’ll continue through the night up through the mayor’s curfew,” Adjutant General Tom Carden, who commands the Georgia National Guard, told Channel 2 Action News.

Atlanta officials said the city's overnight curfew will be extended through Monday morning. The curfew will resume at 9 p.m. Thursday, and at 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Organizers called on Bottoms to address the crowd, which she hadn’t done by the time curfew began.

“They say they’re extending curfew because we’re throwing bottles. Tonight, we’re not throwing no bottles,” organizer Jay Jarns said. “We’re just sitting peacefully and asking the mayor to come talk to us.”

In Decatur, an afternoon rally of several hundred gathered near the DeKalb County Courthouse. Many stood in the shadow of a Confederate monument.

Demonstrators chanted the names of black men and women killed by police and knelt for nearly nine minutes, the length of time a Minnesota officer kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd, whose death in police custody on Memorial Day spurred protests across the country.

On Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced charges against officer Derek Chauvin had been upgraded to second-degree murder. Three other officers present, who have since been fired, will face charges of aiding and abetting murder, Ellison said.

The Decatur square on Wednesday afternoon

Credit: Ty Tagami

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Credit: Ty Tagami

Chaleah Head, a Georgia State University student, said she had attended protests every night across the Atlanta area and she said she knew her hometown of Decatur would keep things peaceful.

“I’m tired of getting teargassed,” she said.

Playing politics?

Atlanta Police Chief Erica Shields said in an email to employees late Tuesday that multiple law enforcement agencies have stopped assisting the department during the ongoing protests because Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced criminal charges against six officers involved in the Saturday arrest of two college students.

She accused Howard, who faces a tough primary election this month, of playing politics blindsiding her with the arrests.

Howard disputed that characterization.

Jacob Cannon, 22, said he wants Shields removed over her comments that her officers charged yesterday are victims of politics.

“I took exception to her statement,” he said as other protesters chanted outside Centennial Olympic Park. “I disagree. What the officers did is representative of the institutional problems embedded in police culture.”

Protest statewide

Demonstrators in Atlanta also invoked the name of Ahmaud Arbery, a Brunswick man shot and killed in February. Arbery’s family says he was jogging.

Three men charged in connection to Arbery’s killing are expected to make initial court appearances Thursday. Officials in the coastal city are expecting a new wave of demonstrations.

South Georgia prosecutors had declined to press charges in Arbery’s killing, but a video of the incident made public last month sparked national outrage, leading to charges.

About midday Wednesday, dozens of airport workers gathered for a caravan from downtown Atlanta to Hartsfield-Jackson International, calling for an end to police violence and for continued health insurance for workers who have been furloughed from jobs at airport restaurants and shops.

On the Marietta Square, a racially mixed group of 100 protesters started to gather before 2 p.m. The mostly teenage and college-aged crowd chanted, “No justice, no peace. No racist police!”

Cobb County NAACP President Jeriene Grimes told the audience protesting via the ballot box was also key in making sure their voices were heard. She encouraged demonstrators to lobby their state lawmakers to pass hate crime legislation in Georgia, one of a handful of states without such legislation.

Owen Ollis of East Cobb lies on his stomach with hands behind his back in similar fashion to Georgia Floyd’s position as he and others pause in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds during a protest over the recent Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, held Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Marietta, Ga. 8 minutes and 46 seconds is the amount of time the officer involved handcuffed and pinned Floyd to the ground with his knee which is allegedly the cause of Floyd’s death. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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“As a leader in the community, this is not new,” Grimes said, referring to the deaths of unarmed black people. “I’m really excited at the fact that there’s now an awareness that’s broader than the circumference of our membership. To see it touch on a broader scale is hopeful.”

Kathryn Madison, a Marietta resident who will begin attending Chattahoochee Technical College in the fall, said the deaths of Floyd, as well as Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kent., have her “scared.”

“I’m scared for myself, my family and any black person in my life,” said Madison, who is also black.

Staff writers J.D. Capelouto, Stephen Deere, Joshua Sharpe, Ty Tagami and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this report.