- Steve Visser The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta City Council members chastised a city public-safety board for erecting billboards advising “Don’t Run” from cops, prompting the board to suspend what it deemed a common-sense advertising campaign
“To me it seems like we are saying people are doing something wrong by running,” said Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms at the public safety committee meeting Tuesday. “One of the things I will always teach my children is that they have the right to run. It may be ill advised but the issue is not with them exercising their rights but the response to them exercising their rights.”
The rebuke seemed to leave Lee Reid, executive director of the Atlanta Citizens Review board, stunned and flabbergasted. By the end of the meeting, Reid agreed to suspend the advertising campaign that had gone up on over 20 billboards in southwest, southeast and northwest Atlanta.
The board is funded by the City Council and is charged with investigating citizen complaints against the police.
Reid, who heads a board that more often clashes with cops in misconduct cases, explained the message was a common-sense one not to exacerbate encounters with police by running — even if the police weren’t in the right
If the police stop was harassment, it was better to cooperate and then file a complaint with the police and the board, Reid said. He noted the Baltimore case where a man died in custody after a police chase. Freddie Gray ran after seeing police who pursued him on suspicion and arrested him. Critics of the arrest said Gray had committed no crime.
“I’ve noticed running from Atlanta police officers during an encounter leads to or can lead to citizens being injured,” Reid said at the meeting “If you have a problem, if you are afraid, if you are concerned about what you have on you, don’t add to it by running.
“We know a kid running, pulling up his pants and trying to hold on to his cellphone may be seen as having a weapon.”
Council members Kwanza Hall and Yolanda Adrean said the billboard message seemed to blame the victim even though they did not believe that was the board’s intent.
“Honestly, when I was growing up, we did the opposite thing,” Hall told Reid. “When we saw police coming, the rule was to run especially if you might have been in the right because more than likely you would get into trouble.”
In interviews with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday, Hall and Bottoms said the message was open to misinterpretation during the politically sensitive time after Gray’s death and the killing of the man in South Carolina who was shot by a police officer while fleeing after a traffic stop.
Myola Smith, project manager of the review board, told The AJC Wednesday that the board wasn’t trying to minimize officer wrongdoing, just unnecessary conflicts. Cops are naturally suspicious when people run, she said.
Bottoms noted court opinions have made it clear officers can’t legally chase someone just for running — suspicious or not. In the end, she agreed with the review board’s main point.
“I certainly would advise my child not to run from the police,” Bottoms told The AJC. “You might have a right to run but is it smart to run? No.”
Atlanta police declined to comment on the issue except to say they were unaware of the campaign.
Board Investigator Sheena Robertson said there have been plenty instances where people ran from police out of fear and then were chased and and assaulted by the officers.
“The person encountered a police officer and was just afraid and just ran and when he was caught he was beat up,” Robertson said. “At the end of the day, what he was charged with was obstruction because he ran, not because the officer had probable cause to arrest him in the first place.
If he hadn’t run he wouldn’t have gone to the hospital and he wouldn’t have had to fight a court case.”