Metro Atlantans continue protests of recent grand jury decisions

Hundreds of protesters marched through downtown Atlanta on Saturday night, adding yet one more set of impassioned voices to a series of rallies and events against police force that had taken place around the metro area earlier in the day.

The group that gathered around 7 p.m. had originally announced plans to occupy Woodruff Park “indefinitely;” however, when they learned they could be arrested, they changed plans, Channel 2 Action News reported. With police hovering nearby, they marched about a mile along Peachtree Street, stopping traffic in places and carrying a large banner that read “Breathe Together, Choke the System.”

That message was a reference to Eric Garner, a New York man who died after being placed in a choke hold by a police officer whom he’d repeatedly told “I can’t breathe!” When a grand jury failed to indict the officer earlier this week, people already dismayed by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo., policeman were even more determined to make their voices heard. Here in Atlanta on Saturday, the result was three separate major protests, including an especially dramatic one in Midtown:

“ONE MINUTE!”

Trisha Polite’s voice rang out on the 17th Street bridge in Midtown, practically bouncing off all of the bodies splayed out on the sidewalk around her. For the next 14-1/2 minutes, the Douglasville woman’s voice was the only one heard as she provided the official countdown for some 200 metro Atlantans staging a novel type of protest.

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“It was a silent rally,” Polite said following Saturday afternoon’s “die-in,” which drew attention to recent fatal uses of force by police officers against black men. “We’ve had a lot of chanting and marching and even some rioting lately, and we wanted to find an effective way to say something people would hear.”

Indeed, on a day when metro Atlanta saw protests and rallies planned from downtown to the Cobb County suburbs, the “die-in” spoke volumes. At precisely 3 p.m. the protesters lay down on the sidewalk on the downtown side of the bridge that overlooks the Downtown Connector. Some had their hands extended upward and others clutched signs reading “I Can’t Breathe” or “We ALL Matter” against their chests. For 15-1/2 minutes, as Polite counted down and other organizers kept a watchful eye on the traffic whizzing to and from Atlantic Station, they maintained their silent vigil.

The amount of time it all lasted was highly symbolic — 11 minutes for each time Garner proclaimed “I can’t breathe” during a fatal choke hold administered by a New York City police officer, and 4-1/2 minutes for the number of hours Michael Brown’s body lay uncovered in the street after he was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer, whom a grand jury also failed to indict.

The idea for the die-in came from a similar one being planned in Florida and quickly spread on social media here. It was initially planned to take place at Atlantic Station. But when organizers were informed it was private property that didn’t permit protests, they moved it to the sidewalk of the state-owned 17th Street bridge.

There’s a reason people all over the metro area were determined to make their voices heard on Saturday, said “die-r” Kenyatta Greer of Lawrenceville.

“I think it’s reached a tipping point,” Greer said not long before joining the others in planned silence. “I think people think ‘I’ve voted, I’ve spread awareness every way I could, now I need another way to make my voice heard and maybe people will take it in.”

The day of planned protests got off to a similarly peaceful start Saturday morning in Marietta. Undeterred by rain and respectfully escorted along their approximately one-mile route by Marietta police officers, more than 50 people began their suburban-based march for justice in a parking lot on South Marietta Parkway. By the time they reached the Cobb Public Safety Building near the Marietta Square, where a rally was held, the crowd had grown to nearly 75 people.

“Cobb County needs to be heard from,” said Russell Robertson, president of “Occupy the Hood Atlanta.” The Cobb resident Organized the march along with other groups like the Cobb Immigrant Alliance and New Order, a human rights group.

“It’s one of the places where people are quiet and it’s the reason I called for this march today,” said Robertson, wearing a t-shirt with a reproduction of the New York Daily News’ Thursday cover containing the phrase “We Can’t Breathe.”

Meanwhile, downtown was bracing for another protest on Saturday night. Organizers of the “Occupation of Woodruff Park” had suggested they’d be settling in for the long haul. But Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed warned that those there past the downtown park’s scheduled closing time of 11 p.m. would be arrested.

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