Atlanta protesters call for change, end to police brutality

After a harrowing week marked by the fatal shooting of two black men by police, and then of five officers by a black man, a diverse group of protesters marched through downtown Atlanta on Friday calling for justice and change, but also appealing for peace.

Thousands of people made their way from the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to the CNN Center, in rallies organized by stalwart civil rights organization the NAACP and a local chapter of the activist group, Black Lives Matter.

The Atlanta demonstrations come on the heels of the deaths of five Dallas law enforcement officers shot Thursday night while monitoring a protest of police violence and the shootings of the black men outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge and during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis.

As the Atlanta demonstrators marched through the city Friday evening, Dallas officials reported that Micah Johnson, 25, had acted alone in the shooting of a dozen officers.

Many who participated in the Atlanta demonstrations say the rallies and protests against police brutality will help bring about positive changes. However, they say the healing can’t come through violence.

“Change must come to policing in America, but it cannot and will not come at the end of a barrel of a gun,” Georgia NAACP president Francys Johnson said.

His sentiments were echoed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who said during a press conference on Friday afternoon, “I know what it means to be a black man, but it doesn’t mean taking your frustrations out on other people.”

Unlike the protest in Dallas that started peacefully but ended tragically, Atlanta’s demonstrations were mostly peaceful, with police officers monitoring, but not interfering with the actions of the thousands of people participating.

Some protesters at the end of Friday’s rally attempted to enter the Downtown Connector, but were blocked by police. At one point a few of the protesters climbed on top of a tractor trailer preventing the truck from moving.

Reed showed up to address the crowd telling them they could continue their protest, but warning them not to block the highway.

“We’re gonna let these young people go forward with this protest,” he said. “We’re respecting their First Amendment right and we’re the home of Dr. Martin Luther King. During the civil rights movements they spent more time making sure people got home safe,” Reed said.

Reed also assured the crowd that there was no foul play in the case of a man found hanging in Piedmont Park on Thursday. Some protesters had questioned how the man died.

Carrie Choe led a spontaneous protest through downtown Atlanta early Friday.

“Something has to change,” she said. “Today we are marching in protest of violence by police officers and by protesters… more than anything, we are trying to build a positive relationship between us and police.”

Attiyah Ali attended Friday’s large rally with a goal in mind. The oppression she said she faces as a black Muslim, make attending these types of rallies even more important.

“If you don’t stand up for injustice, you quietly allow it,” Ali said. “If we all go in our separate corners by religion, race, color, and dig our heels in the ground, we’re never going to come up with a solution.”

Unlike the protest in Dallas that started peacefully but ended tragically, Atlanta’s demonstrations were mostly peaceful, with police officers monitoring, but not interfering with the actions of the thousands of people participating.

“From both sides of the blue, I know you have to feel threatened,” said Quay Hambrick one of the demonstrators, who said he had worked in the Fulton County Jail for two years.

Part of the solution, he said, is having more pay for officers and better training.

“If they [police] can’t be trained to police communities the right way, then they shouldn’t be there,” he said. “We need more people of color making a difference in the community.”

Evangeline Hills moved to Atlanta from New Orleans about nine months ago seeking better opportunities for her four children, who range in age from two to six.

Friday’s protest was her first, but won’t be her last she said. “Black people know with knowledge you can make things happen.”

Staff writers Laura Thompson, Sierra Hubbard and John Spink contributed to this article.

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