Atlanta mayor urges violent protesters: ‘Go home’

Protests against the killing George Floyd started out peacefully in downtown Atlanta but eventually devolved into violence with looting and property damage. Police dispersed tear gas and deployed SWAT teams to combat the crowds. (AJC Staff / edited by Ryon Horne)

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had a blunt message to protesters who turned the streets of downtown Atlanta into scenes of violence and destruction late Friday: “Go home.”

In an emotional press conference, flanked by hip-hop stars and civil rights leaders, the mayor said that demonstrators outraged at systemic racism and police violence are defying the city’s legacy of nonviolent protest by destroying police cars and smashing windows.

“This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is chaos,” she said. “A protest has purpose. When Dr. King was assassinated, we didn’t do this to our city.”

She added: “If you care about this city, then go home.”

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Bottoms’ remarks came as what started as a peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned violent, with some demonstrators assaulting Atlanta Police Department cars and looting at the CNN Center.

She was echoed by several prominent activists, including a tearful Killer Mike. He said he “woke up wanting to see the world burn down yesterday because I’m tired of seeing black men die” but said violent demonstrations weren’t the way to effect change.

May 29, 2020 - Atlanta - After a peaceful march the Georgia State Capitol that swelled into the hundreds, protestors returned to the area around the Centennial Olympic Park and CNN center where some confronted police, who sprayed some demonstrators with pepper spray. They carried signs and chanted their messages of outrage over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Alyssa Pointer / alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

“It is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization. Now is the time to plot, plan, strategize and organize. It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth.”

Summing up his remarks, he asked: “If we lose Atlanta what else do we got?”

The Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the slain civil rights leader, also urged calm.

“We can’t keep doing things like we’ve been doing in this nation. We’ve got to deal with systemic racism and white supremacy,” King said. “The only pathway to doing this is through non-violent means.”

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The last time a major protest rocked Atlanta, it was defused by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed when he promised a sit-down with Black Lives Matters demonstrators.

That compromise gave demonstrators in 2016 a way to declare a "win" and the protest, outside the Governor's Mansion, was quickly dispersed.

Bottoms is faced with a different sort of struggle with these demonstrators, and she pleaded with those who want to press for meaningful reforms to avoid the violence marring the city’s streets.

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“If you care about a peaceful protest, you’re not in the middle of one anymore,” she said. “So if you want a peaceful protest, go home. Organize and come back on a peaceful day. This is not a peaceful night.”

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