Protesters call for accountability on march through downtown Atlanta

In the wake of two recent police-involved shootings of black men in Oklahoma and North Carolina, a group of about 450 protesters marched Friday night in downtown Atlanta in what the Georgia NAACP president called an “escalation.”

“Black people have witnessed people do violence to them and (the offender) be protected by law enforcement,” NAACP Chapter President Francys Johnson said at a news conference Friday before the protest.

“It is in fact an escalation,” he said. “We aren’t asking anymore. We’re demanding.”

The march, which began just before 8 p.m. at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, comes after two black men — Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott — were shot and killed by officers in Tulsa and Charlotte.

Tulsa officer Betty Shelby was charged with manslaughter Thursday in the shooting death of Crutcher, who was unarmed. She turned herself into authorities Friday morning.

Scott’s widow released cellphone footage of the Charlotte incident Friday. The video does not indicate if Scott had a gun at the time.

The organizers raised awareness and want what Johnson called “common sense legislation” that would reduce tensions between police and communities of color. They also would like to eliminate the narrative that Black Lives Matter is creating public policy.

Before departing, protesters chanted “Whose streets? Our streets.” The crowd was amped by a series of speeches from fellow activits highlighting police brutality and failed accountability.

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A retired DeKalb County police crime scene investigator, Betty Maddox, has been on both sides of shootings. Maddox, who lost her son Michael to gun violence 23 years ago, said the loss of life to senseless crime is unbearable.

Maddox founded GRIEVE, an organization created for relatives of those lost to gun violence.

While Michael wasn’t shot by an officer, Maddox said she sympathizes with those who have been victims of police shootings.

“Some don’t understand until it’s them,” she said, “but protesting compels us to rally against senseless gun violence.”

GALLERY: Scenes from the march

Police and political accountability was a much discussed topic before the march. State representative Renitta Shannon said she’s spoken with residents who said they don’t report crimes for fear they’ll witness another black death.

Shannon was one of two politicians who marched with protesters.

She said programs encouraging black communities to report crimes don’t work when they lack confidence in those policing them.

“Systems work best with accountability,” Shannon said. “Why are we not getting the same treatment others are afforded?”

In response to the protest, Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman John H. Eaves said in a statement late Friday: “Fulton County has launched a nationwide model to reform our justice system. Currently, we are the only department in the state of Georgia that monitors our police department’s actions on every call and ensures that no suspect is racially profiled.”

Eaves said communities must work together to find solutions and understand each other.

After leaving the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, protesters marched down Centennial Olympic Park Drive to Auburn Avenue. After almost an hour of walking, which included several momentary stops, organizers reached The King Center, where Ebenezer Baptist Church senior pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock addressed the group: “Police brutality is just a deadly consequence of mass incarceration.”

The protesters left the King Center and marched west toward Atlanta Police headquarters, before arriving at Atlanta Police Department headquarters where they sat until midnight.

Multiple protests are also planned for Saturday by various organizations throughout the city.

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