A group of demonstrators marches down Pryor Street, including one with a sign calling for the abolition of police, as they approach Atlanta City Police officers Saturday, June 6, 2020 (Photo:  John Amis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: John Amis
Photo: John Amis

No curfew and a city at ease at protests Saturday night

Protests across metro Atlanta entered their ninth day Saturday, as peaceful demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice stretched from downtown Atlanta deep into the suburbs.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office said Saturday she had canceled the city’s curfew after no arrests were made the day before, ending seven straight overnight lockdowns. 

A decision on whether the city will cancel a scheduled curfew on Sunday starting at 8 p.m. hasn’t been announced, but a spokesman for Bottoms said the city would monitor Saturday’s demonstrations before making that decision. Late Saturday, the Atlanta Police Department announced another night of no arrests at the protests. 

After 9 p.m. Saturday, there were impromptu dance parties on multiple street corners downtown. Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” serenaded diverse demonstrators, and the sense of unity was palpable. Hope, seemingly lost in the chaos of 2020, had come out of hiding, at least for one day.

As dusk had approached, protesters shouted “Say his name! George Floyd!” and chanted the names of others killed by police.

» Complete coverage: Atlanta protests

Floyd was killed on Memorial Day after being pinned by the neck under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer for nearly nine minutes. The now-fired officer, Derek Chauvin, and three others, have been charged in the incident.

Floyd’s death sparked protests across the nation, including in Atlanta, where a peaceful demonstration May 29 turned into vandalism in downtown and Buckhead. Bottoms instituted a curfew the next night, which had continued each evening since.

But the demonstrations have been largely peaceful for days and the number of arrests have declined dramatically.

Protests Saturday in the Atlanta area were echoed from coast to coast, including thousands on the streets of Washington, D.C.

Dionisio Tabora, 27, one of the organizers of Saturday’s march through downtown Atlanta, said he expected about 75 protesters, but hundreds gathered.

“It fills me with joy to see people not worry about the National Guard and stand up for what is right,” he said. One African American officer in an unmarked vehicle raised his fist in the air to cheers from marchers.

After 10 p.m. there were tensions at the state Capitol as protesters massed near a statue of former Gov. John Brown Gordon, a former Confederate widely acknowledged as a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, demanding the statue’s removal while law enforcement officers kept the demonstrators at bay. Protesters vowed to return as they disbanded for the night.

Law enforcement officers keep an eye on on a group of protesters late Saturday night at the Capitol. (Photo: Christian Boone / AJC)

Demonstrations have filled streets in places with starkly different politics, from the thousands who gathered Saturday downtown in liberal Athens to the many hundreds in conservative Forsyth County, known for an infamous outbreak of white-on-black violence in 1912 that forced out the entire black population of the county of more than 1,000.

» RELATED: Photos from Saturday’s protests

As afternoon temperatures soared into the upper 80s, the mood was festive near Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. The park has been the epicenter of demonstrations in the city.

A group of young African American men and women who are band members at various historically black colleges and universities gathered for a jam session atop a parking deck in Atlanta on Saturday, June 6, 2020. (Photo: Eric Stirgus / AJC)

Atop a parking deck, a group of young African American men and women who are band members at various historically black colleges and universities gathered for a jam session.

As others yelled “No justice, no peace,” the band played. Terrell Guerra, 20, a Bethune-Cookman University student, played the tuba.

“With all the police brutality and negativity, we wanted to do something positive,” said Guerra, a graduate of Miller Grove High School in DeKalb County.

‘Branching out’

The first June weekend in Virginia-Highland would typically bring the community’s annual Summerfest. But the lively summer gathering, canceled by the coronavirus pandemic, was replaced by 1,000 or more marching with their children in the streets.

Families lined a two-mile stretch of North Highland Avenue. Many held “Black Lives Matter” signs and chanted “No justice, no peace” as people drove by in cars, honking with fists raised. Most of the protesters were white.

One white man held a sign that said, “I will never understand, but still I stand.”

A white woman held a sign that said, “Breonna Taylor should be 27,” a reference to a Louisville emergency medical worker killed in her home by police who entered her house with a no-knock warrant.

On a day that would have been the start of Summerfest, canceled due to the pandemic, about 1,000 protesters gathered at the corner of Virginia and North Highland avenues and marched down Virginia Avenue to Piedmont Park, where they planned to join with other protest groups and march downtown. (Photo: Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Nearby, the nonprofit CORE Response held a COVID-19 testing center for demonstrators after public health experts warned of potential spread of the virus among the crowds.

Sergio Tuberquia, 22, helped organize a march in Freedom Park that drew several hundred more protesters than expected.

“The big goal today is to start branching out to other places,” he said.

Protesters sit in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds in Freedom Park on Saturday, June 6, 2020, to honor the life of George Floyd. A Minneapolis police officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds before Floyd died. (Photo: Sarah Kallis / AJC)

Tuberquia and the other organizers said they hope protests will lead to a governing body for the police.

Police brutality has continued, protesters said.

Last week, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office charged six Atlanta police officers in connection with an arrest of two college students in which officers deployed tasers. Separately, an Atlanta police officer has been placed on administrative duty after video showed him throwing a woman to the ground during an arrest last weekend in Buckhead.

As the crowd in one demonstration stopped in front of the Fulton County Government Center, several speakers urged them to vote in Tuesday’s elections.

“This is where the change takes place,” organizer Keith Strickland told the crowd. As Tabora, one of the organizers, spoke, a woman interrupted him to demand mental health reform. The crowd roared its approval.

Protesters demonstrate outside the Forsyth County Courthouse in Cumming during a peaceful protest for unity and equality in honor of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and encouraging community policing and accountability on Saturday, June 6, 2020. (Photo: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

‘Compelled to stop’

In downtown Cumming in Forsyth County, a racially mixed crowd of several hundred gathered near the courthouse.

Protesters held signs that read “This is not a moment, it’s a movement,” and “Equal Rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It’s not a pie.”

In 1987, a civil rights protest in Forsyth devolved into a street battle with peaceful protesters encountering white residents throwing bricks and Ku Klux Klan members waving Confederate flags.

By 1990, only 14 black people lived in the county. Today, only about 4 percent of Forsyth’s 244,000 population is black.

But the reaction to protests this Saturday was much different. A rally planned by local teens drew more than 100 people in front of an IHOP restaurant just off Ga. 400.

Many motorists honked and pumped their fists in support. One older man in a red Audi convertible shot a bird at the crowd and the driver of a pickup with a Trump 2020 flag drove past several times and hit his horn, which played the melody of “Dixie.”

Irving Finks, 33, brought his 18-month old daughter to the rally.

“I was getting off from work and was picking up my daughter and I was just compelled to stop,” he said. The crowd, a mix of races and ages, he said, gave him hope.

Kia Loving, 16, one of the organizers urged those in the crowd old enough to vote to show up to the polls.

“I will not leave this world until change comes,” she said. “This is important. We are important.”

Shaddi Abusaid, Bob Andres, Mike Esterl, Eric Stirgus, Sarah Kallis and Helena Oliviero contributed to this report.

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