Protests set for metro Atlanta on Independence Day

Demonstrators: Not all Americans are treated equally

Kenyah Farley typically spends Independence Day with her family at her aunt’s house in Atlanta, playing card games — Uno and Spades — listening to music and barbecuing.

This year’s July Fourth holiday will be a vastly different experience for her and many other Americans as the nation simultaneously grapples with the deadly coronavirus pandemic and renewed calls for racial justice. Marching demonstrators will take the place of marching bands. Protests will replace parades. Fiery speeches will fill in for fireworks.

On Saturday evening, Farley will join a rally at Centennial Olympic Park, which canceled its annual fireworks celebration because of the coronavirus outbreak. The Miller Grove High School graduate is calling for criminal justice reforms following the killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks. Other demonstrations are planned Saturday for elsewhere in Atlanta, Lawrenceville and Roswell.

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, announcing the colonies’ separation from Great Britain. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the document says in part: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” But not everyone is treated equally in America, Farley said, so she will be busy Saturday.

“It is more than just a day of rest,” Farley, 21, who is studying social work at Georgia State University, said of Independence Day. “It is also a day to bring awareness surrounding the injustices and the fact that not everyone is ultimately free, which is the whole point of the holiday.”

Taking precautions amid the pandemic

The protests that have rippled across the Atlanta region in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis have been overwhelmingly lawful and peaceful so far. Organizers of this weekend’s demonstrations say they intend to keep it that way. Tiffany Roberts will be ready, just in case. Working for the Southern Center for Human Rights, she has helped coordinate pro bono attorneys for protesters charged with disorderly conduct and other offenses.

“When I was a kid, my mother would have me read ‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July’ by Frederick Douglass,” said Roberts, an attorney who teaches law at Georgia State University. “It is important for Americans to be reminded of the fact that we have not lived up to the promise of our founding documents.”

Farley will attend the "Rally for Reparations," an event organized by an Atlanta organization that calls itself The Black Agenda Group. Russell "Brother Russell" Trotter, 40, the group's co-founder, said "reparations" mean more than payments. They also refer to improving health care, housing, education and economic development for African-Americans, he said. The tipping point for Trotter came when he saw the video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pinning George Floyd to the ground with his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd's death has been ruled a homicide and Chauvin, since fired, faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

“That video broke my heart,” said Trotter, an advertising professional who graduated from Georgia Southern University. “There are two Americas going on. The America that the white male can experience — I can never experience that America.”

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the rally, Trotter is encouraging protesters to wear masks.

Volunteers will distribute masks, gloves and hand sanitizer at a separate demonstration that is set to begin at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in the afternoon Saturday, pass by City Hall and end at Liberty Plaza, said one of the organizers, Naylah Canty, 18, of Ellenwood.

“We are generally going to be enforcing social distancing while we walk,” said Canty, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who is organizing her first protest. “We are going to reemphasize it at each step of the protest just to make sure people know not to clump-up if they can avoid it.”

Along the march, the organizers will distribute information about how to register to vote and find Black-owned businesses. Meanwhile, speakers will discuss police brutality. Holding the event on the Fourth of July, Canty said, will help make an important point.

“Yeah, we did break away from another nation. That is true,” she said. “But is it really independence, if not all of us are free?”

protest planned for Rhodes Jordan Park in Lawrenceville Saturday evening is aimed at reallocating money away from police to health care and public schools, improving the conditions inside jails and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency that detains and deports people who have entered the country without legal permission. The organizers — Norcross High School graduates Musunga Mubuso, 23, Idalia Le'Mons, 19, and Sierra Mantsouranis, 18 — decry how ICE has separated immigrant families and detained children amid the pandemic.

The national debate over immigration is personal for Mubuso, who was brought to America from his Zambian homeland when he was five years old. He has been accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, created by the Obama administration to temporarily shield young immigrants from deportation. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration cannot immediately proceed with its plans to scrap the program.

“We have to push our narrative,” said Mubuso, a computer coding worker, “because if our voices aren’t heard than what is the point of preparing the country for the future generations, if the older generation is still in power?”

‘No way I could continue to sit back’

Farley grew up hearing stories about her great-grandmother demonstrating for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama. Learning about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery inspired Farley to become more active. The three white men Arbery encountered on Feb. 23 in a subdivision outside Brunswick, Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., have been indicted on charges, including malice and felony murder.

“I knew this time that there was just no way I could continue to sit back,” Farley said.

She organized her first protest for June 14, using Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Ultimately, she led dozens of demonstrators on a march from the state Capitol to Centennial Olympic Park and back, at times chanting into a bullhorn: “Black Lives Matter! Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Donald Trump has got to go!”

Farley organized a subsequent protest on June 28 in downtown Atlanta to raise awareness about Breonna Taylor. The 26-year-old black emergency room technician was fatally shot in her Louisville, Kentucky home when police officers on a narcotics investigation burst into her home, acting on a no-knock warrant. The warrant was connected to a suspect who didn’t live there. No drugs were found in Taylor’s home. Officer Brett Hankison, who is white, showed “extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly” shot 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment, the Associated Press reported, citing the termination letter police issued to Hankison.

Farley is also concerned about voter suppression, the disproportionate share of Black people who are imprisoned in America and the economic barriers they face once they are freed.

“We are still fighting injustices, and it is 2020,” she said. “I hope we continue.”