Kemp signs order to call up National Guard troops after violent unrest

Governor Kemp declares state of emergency in Georgia, authorizes National Guard troops to Atlanta.

Governor Kemp declares state of emergency in Georgia, authorizes National Guard troops to Atlanta.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed an emergency order Thursday allowing him to deploy as many as 1,000 Georgia National Guard troops following the violent unrest in Atlanta this weekend over a proposed public safety center.

“Georgians respect peaceful protests, but do not tolerate acts of violence against persons or property,” Kemp wrote in the order, which expires Feb. 9.

The governor’s aides described it as a precautionary measure as authorities also monitor the threat of protests over the beating death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old motorist who was killed earlier this month in Memphis after being pulled over by police.

A grand jury returned indictments Thursday charging five former officers with second-degree murder. Memphis officials plan to release video of the arrest and its violent aftermath on Friday evening.

“We understand the executive order is purely precautionary based on possible unrest following the release of the videos from Memphis,” said an official with direct knowledge of the situation but was unauthorized to speak publicly. “There are no immediate intentions to deploy the Guard.”

The order invokes the clash in Atlanta that took place Saturday night as a small group of masked demonstrators hurled rocks and lit fireworks in downtown Atlanta, setting an unoccupied police cruiser ablaze. Authorities arrested at least six people and said they recovered explosive devices.

They had converged on a skyscraper-lined section of Peachtree Street after dozens of protesters gathered at nearby Underground Atlanta to demonstrate against the city’s plan to build the training center on forestland in DeKalb County.

The event was also intended to memorialize activist Manuel Teran, who was fatally shot by a state trooper at the project’s site on Jan. 18. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Teran was killed after he shot and wounded a state trooper.

Atlanta firefighters prepared to extinguish a police car that was set afire during a Forest Defenders protest in Atlanta on Saturday, Jan 21, 2023. The Atlanta Police Department said several arrests had been made. (Steve Schaefer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

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Credit: TNS

The GBI has said there was no bodycam footage of the incident, though activists have demanded an independent investigation as they cast doubt on the official narrative. Before the violence on Saturday, demonstrators chanted “no justice, no peace, no killer police.”

No law enforcement officers, demonstrators or civilians were hurt during the protest and the violence that ensued, authorities said.

Backed by a sweeping reelection victory, Kemp has proposed new measures to target gang violence and limit no-cash bail. The Republican also has not shied away from labeling the activists as terrorists — and demanding they be brought to swift justice.

The $90 million public safety center was approved in September 2021 by the Atlanta City Council, which OK’d a deal to allow the Atlanta Police Foundation to build the complex on a wooded property in southwestern DeKalb County.

The council’s narrow approval sparked backlash from a loose coalition of environmentalists, police abolitionists and other left-wing activists who oppose the plan. Some of the most strident opponents have camped out in the forest, clashing directly with police and contractors.

The order comes amid buzz about more demonstrations, potentially in connection with the Memphis charges.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said Thursday at a Buckhead Coalition luncheon that the “very strong” network of local and federal authorities is on alert for protests.

“We’re going to continue to protect the First Amendment. We are dedicated to that,” Schierbaum said. “But we are the law enforcement agency in the city, and we’ll use all the resources to address any issue that may arrive.”

In a message Thursday to the city’s corporate and civic leaders, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens described many of the activists as “outsiders who have come here for their own political aims.”

“They want to scare and disrupt. But Atlanta is stronger than them,” Dickens wrote, adding that it’s in the city’s “DNA as the cradle of the civil rights movement” to protect the right to peaceful protest.

“But we do not tolerate violence or property destruction,” he wrote. “We find those who commit such acts, we arrest them, and we charge them appropriately.”

Staff writer Tyler Estep contributed to this article.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum speaks at a news conference along with Mayor Andre Dickens (back center) after protesters against a police training center turned violent Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (Photo: Channel 2 Action News)

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

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Credit: Channel 2 Action News