Kemp to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops after violent weekend

Gov. Brian Kemp will deploy as many as 1,000 Georgia National Guard troops to protect state buildings in Atlanta on Monday following a burst of violence across the city that left four dead, including an 8-year-old girl, and saw the ransacking of the headquarters of the Georgia State Patrol.

Kemp, a Republican, issued the emergency order after threatening late Sunday to “take action” to curb the unrest in Atlanta if Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms failed to do so, a move that highlighted the complicated, and increasingly tense, relationship between two of the state’s most prominent politicians.

The National Guard troops will be dispatched to three locations in the city: The state Capitol, which has been the focus of protests over statues of segregationists and Civil War leaders; the Governor’s Mansion in Buckhead; and the recently vandalized Department of Public Safety building in southeast Atlanta.

“Peaceful protests were hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda. Now, innocent Georgians are being targeted, shot, and left for dead,” said Kemp. “This lawlessness must be stopped and order restored in our capital city.”

The governor's aides said earlier Monday that his emergency powers grant him the authority to deploy Georgia National Guard troops to Atlanta's streets. He took that step in late May, after widespread looting and violence, at Bottoms' request.

The mayor, who said Monday she tested positive for the coronavirus, said that she strongly disagreed with Kemp's decision and at “no time” requested the help.

"The irony of that is I asked Governor Kemp to allow us to mandate masks in Atlanta and he said no,” Bottoms said early Tuesday on Good Morning America. “But he has called in the National Guard without asking if we need the National Guard.”

She earlier issued her own plea to residents to end the violence. At least 93 people were shot in Atlanta between May 31 — roughly when the George Floyd protests began — and June 27. That’s roughly double the number from the same span a year ago.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, right, speaks during a press conference at Atlanta police headquarters about the Saturday night shooting death of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/SCOTTl.TRUBEY@AJC.COM

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

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Credit: J. Scott Trubey

"This random wild, Wild West shoot-'em-up because you can, has gotta stop. It has to stop," she said after the violent weekend.

State Democrats criticized Kemp for using his executive powers to protect buildings — one where he works, the other where he lives — instead of people.

“For months, we have begged the governor to take serious steps to stop COVID-19 from decimating our communities, but he refuses,” said state Sen. Nikema Williams, who chairs the state Democratic Party.

“His choice to deploy National Guard troops for today's selfish purpose is outrageous and will endanger lives.”

The governor's allies, meanwhile, expressed hope that his decision would help return a sense of calm to a city in desperate need of it.

“With the absence of order, there can be no peace. The actions of the governor will hopefully restore order to our city and to various parts of our state,” said Rich Thompson, the vice-chair of the Fulton County GOP.

“In the interest of protecting the personal property and law-abiding citizens of Georgia, it was a good move.”

Shotguns and shuttered businesses

Kemp and Bottoms are at odds over how to keep Atlanta's streets safe at a pivotal moment.

Kemp is arguably the state’s highest profile Republican and one of President Donald Trump’s top allies in Georgia, though they’ve skirmished over his approach to the coronavirus and his selection for an open U.S. Senate seat.

And Bottoms, one of the state’s top Democratic elected officials, has catapulted to the national stage as a high-level contender to be Joe Biden’s running-mate largely because of her firm, impassioned response to the twin crises – the coronavirus and the protests for racial justice.

The two never seemed destined for the same sort of friendly relationship their predecessors, Gov. Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed, enjoyed. But their iciness during the 2018 campaign threatened to spill over after Kemp’s narrow victory.

Still, both seemed willing to set aside the vitriol as Kemp prepared to take office, and he notably walked the roughly 300 steps from the Gold Dome to the mayor's office to meet with Bottoms in a sign of respect for one of the state's top Democratic leaders.

He quietly opposed an effort last year to grant the state oversight over the airport, the closest it has come in years to passage. And he tapped Bottoms to the state's coronavirus task force, a panel that was created to hash out Georgia's strategy to contain the disease.

Bottoms echoed many of Kemp’s decisions in the opening weeks of the pandemic, but then forcefully broke with him as he enacted statewide restrictions that banned Atlanta and other cities from taking more drastic steps — and then began to relax the limits that he put in place.

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As Kemp began to ease restrictions, Bottoms took to cable news and other outlets to urge the city's residents to shelter in place despite the message from the governor. Though she often didn't directly criticize Kemp, she pointedly noted that she and other top officials were left in the dark.

"It is the governor's prerogative to make the decision for the state, but I will continue to urge Atlanta to stay at home, stay safe and make decisions based on the best interests of their families," she said after an April order that allowed some shuttered businesses to reopen.

‘Back the blue’

The protest movement surrounding George Floyd’s death has ratcheted up the tension. Early on, as peaceful demonstrations on Atlanta’s streets gave way to bouts of looting and chaos, Kemp deployed the Georgia National Guard to help restore order and impose curfews.

After a period of relative calm, the protests surged again after the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks, prompting Bottoms to force the resignation of the city’s police chief. The killing resulted in criminal charges against two officers involved in the botched arrest attempt.

Amid mass sickouts of Atlanta officers angry over their treatment by Bottoms and other city officials, Kemp took to social media with a message of his own: "Georgia backs the blue."

“While so much of our attention is on the few that have violated their oath, we have failed to express our deepest appreciation for the many more who uphold it every day,” said Kemp. “So today and every day, we say ‘Thank you.’”

A spate of shootings that left four dead and two dozen injured over the weekend appears to have further strained their relationship. Around the same time 14 people were shot early Sunday at an outdoor party, a crowd of at least 60 busted out the windows of the Georgia State Patrol headquarters.

The violence was roundly condemned by many politicians, including Kemp, who promised to track down the vandals who attacked the state building.

On Monday, one of Kemp's legislative allies, Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones, showed reporters where a homemade grenade destroyed a supervisor’s office at the southeast Atlanta compound. Dust and debris were still strewn across the room, and a computer was warped from the heat of the blaze.

"They want to take over Atlanta like they've tried to take over other cities,” said Jones, a former DeKalb County chief executive who has endorsed President Donald Trump.

The organizers of the protests had a markedly different view.

Russell Trotter, who helped lead a "Rally for Reparations" event in downtown Atlanta on Independence Day, said the shootings over the weekend had nothing to do with the broader movement for racial justice. 
"This is the thinking that is dividing us as a country and as a community," said Trotter, co-founder of an Atlanta organization that calls itself The Black Agenda Group.

“We are bringing the National Guard in for protests, but we can’t even police our own community.”

Naylah Canty, 18, of Ellenwood organized a separate protest that ended at Liberty Plaza Saturday. She pointed to Kemp’s other priorities, including stopping the spread of the coronavirus disease.

“He has completely done not enough to curb the virus,” said Canty, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student.

“We also have to look at who the pandemic is affecting. It is… disproportionately black people, especially in urban areas. So it is a slap in the face when he just ignores the fact that we are dying. We are in the densely populated areas.”

Staff Writer Jeremy Redmon contributed to this report.