Core Employees take down information and get samples at the COVID-19 testing site at the Shrine of the Black Madonna on Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. in Atlanta June 27, 2020. Georgia recorded its highest number of coronavirus cases on Saturday since the beginning of the pandemic.
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Protests continue as Georgia posts record COVID cases

The state of Georgia reported nearly 2,000 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, a new record since the start of the pandemic, and a high-water mark that comes only a day after the state set its previous high.

The state Department of Public Health reported 1,990 new cases and six deaths from the disease. Georgia has reported more than 1,700 cases in each of the past five days.

Demand for coronavirus testing has also increased in recent days as cases in the metro area continue to climb, local health departments said.

>> FOLLOW AJC’s complete coronavirus coverage

The rise in COVID-19 cases has come in weeks after Georgia has loosened restrictions on movement and businesses, and as daily protests of racial injustice and police brutality have carried on since the end of May.

On Saturday, rallies and protests took place across the metro area, including one large gathering in Cobb County in support of police and another in southwest Atlanta for the families of Black men and women killed by officers.

Public health officials have said the rise in cases relate to a breakdown in social distancing. State officials have not linked cases specifically to protests, but have urged protesters to get tested.

A person gets the swab with the COVID-19 test on her nose during a free test drive on the Good Samaritan Clinic’s parking lot. The Clinic offers free check with the results in 15 minutes on June 23, 2020, in Atlanta.
Photo: MIGUEL MARTINEZ FOR THE AJC

At DeKalb’s six county testing sites, the numbers of people tested has roughly doubled incrementally over the past two weeks, said health department spokesman Eric Nickens Jr.

On Thursday, DeKalb saw a record 1,514 people being tested across the six sites.

The Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale Health Department has been consistently testing between 3,600 and 3,700 people each week at its four county sites, but this past week the number rose to more than 4,000 tests conducted, said spokesman Chris Wasdin.

Despite the increases, neither health department reports having to turn away anyone seeking tests. Some centers reported long lines of cars with patients awaiting tests.

>> READ | A look at major coronavirus developments during the past week

The tri-county department operates two testing locations in Gwinnett and one each in Newton and Rockdale.

Despite the recent increases, neither health department reports having to turn away anyone seeking tests. In addition to the county sites, a number of private sites are also offering tests in the metro area.

Fulton Board of Health did not have figures available before deadline.

Group rallies for police

A few hundred pro-police demonstrators rallied at a park near Powder Springs on Saturday, urging residents to support officers. Waves of protests in metro Atlanta and cities across the nation were sparked by the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

A couple hundred demonstrators attended a rally in support of law enforcement and first responders Saturday, June 27, 2020 at Lost Mountain Park in Powder Springs.
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Steve Gaynor, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Cobb and a speaker at the rally, slammed the decision by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to charge two Atlanta police officers in connection to the shooting death earlier this month of Rayshard Brooks before a state investigation of the incident is complete.

Police were called to the Wendy’s on University Avenue to a report of a man asleep in his car in the drive-through. Brooks was given a field sobriety test and a breath test and as he was being placed in handcuffs, he resisted arrest. Brooks and the officers wrestled on the ground and Brooks was able to take one officer’s Taser and flee.

>> READ | 170 Atlanta police officers called out sick during ‘Blue Flu’ protests, records show

Video of the incident showed Brooks running from officers and appear to turn back and fire or attempt to fire the Taser as he ran. Officer Garrett Rolfe fired on Brooks. An autopsy said Brooks died of “gunshot wounds of the back.”

Rolfe was fired the next day and Chief Erika Shields resigned from her post. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, faces lesser charges in the incident.

Gaynor said Rolfe and Brosnan were justified in their actions.

“There’s no way that an officer who followed the guidelines and the policies and procedures and the law should be sitting in a jail at this time,” Gaynor said of Rolfe.

Demonstrators listen to the speakers at a rally in support of law enforcement and first responders Saturday, June 27, 2020 at Lost Mountain Park in Powder Springs .
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Since Brooks’ shooting, Atlanta police have suffered from officers calling out sick in protest, city officials have said, and the department has had to scramble to ensure coverage of the city.

A man who identified himself to a reporter as Joe Smith said calls to defund the police will lead to less safe communities.

“The ramifications that could happen in south Atlanta if the police are defunded are a scary thing,” he said.

Smith also accused the media of brushing aside Brooks’ criminal record.

‘We will make you see us’

In Southwest Atlanta, families of Georgia Black men and women killed by police called for prosecutions in their cases.

A moment of silence was held for about two dozen people shot by police or former police officers.

Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta NAACP, said cellphone video has helped bring justice to cases that in the past might have been swept under a rug.

“It takes all of us, all of us, to understand this system isn’t good if your skin is black,” he said.

Among the speakers was Monteria Robinson, whose 26-year-old son Jamarion, was shot 76 times inside his girlfriend’s East Point apartment in 2016 by a local-federal joint fugitive task force. Authorities have said they were trying to arrest the man for allegedly pointing a gun at officers in a previous incident.

Monteria Robinson (center) speaks about her late son, Jamarion Robinson, during a press conference on the steps of the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Jamarion Robinson, 26, was shot by officers more than 50 times on Aug. 5, 2016. Monteria Robinson spoke again about her son’s death during a Saturday, June 27, 2020 rally with the Atlanta NAACP.
Photo: ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Supporters held signs showing wounds and x-rays of Jamarion Robinson’s body. His mother said Howard has sat on the case for more than four years. The officers involved did not have body cameras.

“If you do not see us, we will make you see us,” Monteria Robinson said.

Howard, who attended the rally, has blamed jurisdictional issues and sued the Justice Department for failing to cooperate with his investigation.

“Our major problem is how to reconstruct a crime scene when the officers won’t testify and we don’t have body cameras,” he said.

>> Atlanta protests: Complete coverage

But Howard was shouted down by supporters of Robinson. Organizers calmed the crowd saying the event was not about politics but supporting the families.

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