Police say relationships culled over years with activist groups, along with a tradition of allowing peaceful protest, helped keep citizens and officers safe during the most tense moments of demonstrations that moved through downtown Atlanta Friday and spilled into the pre-dawn hours of Saturday.
An estimated 10,000 people took to city streets in protest of recent police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. There were no reports of violence and only three arrests — all of which involved people blocking interstate ramps.
The Atlanta protests were largely organized by the NAACP and Black Lives Matter. They happened just one day after a sniper ambushed Dallas police officers, killing five and wounding seven who were monitoring non-violent protests there. Two civilians were also wounded in that attack.
Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP, said his organization contacted the city in advance to notify them of the plans. He called police behavior during the protest “exemplary.”
“They were patient and sensitive … (even when) it sort of got away from us,” Rose said. “We started great for the first couple of hours, then the frustration … and the outrage was tough to contain. The police showed restraint.”
Atlanta Police Maj. Darin Schierbaum said about 200 officers from his department worked the protests, none of whom were in riot gear. Georgia State Patrol officers also worked the protests in their normal uniforms.
“The key is our continuing effort to build relationships with the community — to know and be in dialog with community groups when there are not times of tension,” Schierbaum said. “Atlanta historically is an area of peaceful protests. The police department trains for that, trains for not taking a confrontational stance.”
Schierbaum said riot gear is only issued when projectiles are thrown or when there is some other threat to officers.
“If it’s not necessary, then many times it is advantageous to have normally uniformed officers in place,” he said.
Mayor Kasim Reed also walked the downtown streets, saying he wanted to talk “face-to-face” with protesters.
“My message is that we’re respecting their First Amendment rights … and the only thing I ask is that they not take the freeways,” Reed said. “I want to make sure that everyone gets through the night safely.
“Let’s just let this be the best version of ourselves.”
Go to ajc.com for a photo gallery from the protests.
Go to myAJC.com for full coverage of the protests.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.