Protests spread to metro Atlanta, Gainesville Saturday night

Two men are led away from a demonstration near Centennial Olympic Park that turned violent on Friday, May 29, 2020. Most of the demonstrators gathered for a non-violent protest of police misconduct. Some hurled objects at police and looted nearby buildings. ERIC STIRGUS/ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO
Two men are led away from a demonstration near Centennial Olympic Park that turned violent on Friday, May 29, 2020. Most of the demonstrators gathered for a non-violent protest of police misconduct. Some hurled objects at police and looted nearby buildings. ERIC STIRGUS/ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Protests that started in Atlanta Friday spread across the metro area Saturday, with several shopping areas shutting down early as managers hoped to avoid the damage that befell stores in Buckhead and other parts of the city the previous night.

While there were some arrests, little damage was reported.

Alpharetta Police Chief John Robison said on social media that the Avalon shops had closed early because management was concerned about rumors that “violent protests and looting may be coming to Alpharetta tonight.” A video posted of Cumberland Mall in Cobb County Saturday afternoon showed a heavy police presence inside the shopping center.

The Mall of Georgia in Buford closed early, as did Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville. There were no protests at the Mall of Georgia, but Gwinnett County police said as many as 150 people came to Sugarloaf Mills, where they protested for more than five hours.

Cpl. Collin Flynn, a spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police Department, said four people were arrested and two police cars were damaged, but no businesses were vandalized and the protesters were largely peaceful. The protest dispersed before 9:30 p.m., with some people going to historic downtown Lawrenceville before leaving. There was no damage done at the Lawrenceville Square.

“Hopefully, things have died down here tonight,” he said.

A video posted on Twitter showed one Lawrenceville protester being punched in the face by an officer at Sugarloaf Mills as he was being arrested. Flynn said the officer appeared to work for the Gwinnett County police, but he did not know his name or whether he remained on the scene more than two hours after the incident. The situation at the mall was fluid, Flynn said, but he said the department would take the incident seriously.

“Once the situation has concluded we will address any force used and an investigation will be completed with transparent results to the public,” he said.

In Gainesville, protests continued after 11 p.m. Channel 2 Action News reported some yelling and blocked roads, but no incidents between protesters and police.

Dunwoody police in a Facebook post asked residents to stay home Saturday night because “things can change without notice.” Police arrived around 8 p.m. to block entrances to Perimeter Mall in the affluent Atlanta suburb, but the area was still quiet two hours later.

That’s in contrast to the early hours of Saturday morning, when police said there were groups of people at a nearby Walmart and other businesses that began gathering after 1:30 a.m. Officers said in a statement that they were able to deter looting. They estimated between 150 and 200 vehicles were pushed out of the mall area. Many had license plates that were covered up or missing, or had out-of-state tags, the department said.

The Cobb County, Marietta and Smyrna police departments put out a joint statement Saturday saying they were working together to make sure safety was maintained. The departments “have taken note of the criminal activity that has been taking place in so many cities across our country over the past few days,” the statement said, noting that they “remain strongly opposed to any form of injustice, racism, or brutality.”

They encouraged people planning protests to be in contact with police, and said some organizers expressed concern that “outside agitators may try to hijack their plans for a peaceful event.” The departments said they would be ready to protect peaceful protesters and to arrest anyone who broke the law.

Staff writers Adrianne Murchison, Ariel Hart, Alexis Stevens, Kelly Yamanouchi and Shaddi Abusaid contributed to this story.