No one quite knew what to expect when protesters, evicted from the property five days earlier, announced a “Take Back the Wendy’s” rally for Saturday afternoon.

The restaurant at 125 University Avenue, no longer in business after it was gutted by arsonists a few weeks earlier, has been the scene of peaceful protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

But there were also concerns about a group of armed civilians believed responsible for at least two other shootings, at least one beating and multiple reports of threats against people approaching the site.

Critics assailed city leaders for letting the situation persist. Though the peaceful protesters marching Saturday were not associated wth those previous incidents, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had declared the area off limits.

Protester Nuke Stevenson, 25, said he brought his AR-15 in case of a confrontation between marchers and police.

“Force is often used unjustly against our side,” he said. “This isn’t meant as a show of aggression. My goal is to help keep the peace.”

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Protests in Atlanta

But despite fears from both sides, peace prevailed as about 120 protesters marched from Atlanta’s Pittsburgh community to the Wendy’s. By 6 p.m. the crowd had largely dispersed. Law enforcement officers kept their distance as speakers offered a vision for transforming the Wendy’s lot into a community peace center.

Yvette Dixon waves her flag during a rally at the Wendy's on University Avenue in Atlanta on Saturday, July 11, 2020. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Yvette Dixon waves her flag during a rally at the Wendy's on University Avenue in Atlanta on Saturday, July 11, 2020. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Activists had seized control of the parking lot on June 13, one day after Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer following a struggle during a DUI arrest.

Brooks, 27, was shot from behind after taking an officer’s Taser during the fight and pointing it at him as he ran away.

Garrett Rolfe, the officer who shot Brooks, was fired and faces 11 criminal charges, including felony murder. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, faces four charges, including aggravated assault.

The area was cleared by police Monday under orders from the mayor in response to the July Fourth shooting of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner.

“Enough is enough,” Bottoms said last Sunday at a press conference after the deadly shooting.

RELATED: Police finish clearing the Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks was killed

The mayor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board this past week that she had wanted the area cleared weeks earlier but was dissuaded by City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who had been negotiating with the protesters.

Protesters fought back against what they say were insinuations by the mayor that they were responsible for Secoriea’s death. The rising third-grader was shot in the backseat of her mother’s SUV by armed civilians, whom protesters say they didn’t know, after the car’s driver attempted to avoid a road block erected on University Avenue.

The South Atlanta Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks was killed was destroyed last month during a large protest.
The South Atlanta Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks was killed was destroyed last month during a large protest.

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

“They told us we were behind the murder of an 8-year-old child,” said Lady A, one of the leaders of the movement. “I have three little girls. We’re not kid killers. We can’t control what happens in the middle of the street. What we can control, we had under control, but they turned us out.”

MORE: Atlanta shooting victim Secoriea Turner was full of joy, feisty spirit

Attorney Gerald Griggs, vice president of the Atlanta NAACP, said the mayor ultimately bears the responsibility for the July Fourth tragedy.

“For Keisha to call you guys out and say blood is on your hands … it’s not true,” Griggs said. “The blood is on her hands.”

“Get off CNN. Get off MSNBC. Get off Fox. Get off ABC!” Griggs continued. “The community is down here. We want an end to police brutality on your watch, Keisha. If you can’t do it, you need to pack up your office.”

MORE: 'We feel like we've been abandoned.' Atlanta suffers a deadly July 4

Though Wendy’s remained off-limits, protesters say they are determined to make their goal a reality.

“Think how long it took for Montgomery bus boycott to bring change,” said Mariah Parker, 28, an Athens-Clarke County Commissioner who participated in Saturday’s march. “But I think it’s important to acknowledge how much change has already occurred over the last few months. People are dug in and committed.”