Atlanta protest scattered by tear gas, heavy police presence
ATLANTA (AP) — Riot police firing volleys of tear gas dispersed hundreds of demonstrators as a curfew began Sunday night, scattering a crowd that had protested for hours in downtown Atlanta over the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.
Hundreds of police, Georgia National Guard troops and other forces took up positions around downtown Centennial Park, sealing off the area that was the epicenter of three nights of protests as all but a handful of the protesters disbanded.
The overnight curfew took hold at 9 p.m. as some on the fringes of a largely peaceful crowed were setting off fireworks and burning construction materials near the park where some tried to erect a street barricade. An Associated Press photographer saw police begin firing multiple 40 millimeter canisters of tear gas toward the crowd. People — some choking and gasping and others throwing up — ran as helmeted officers with plastic riot shields moved in.
Televised video broadcast live by WSB-TV after the curfew took force showed authorities taking some still lingering in the area into custody. They were placed in plastic handcuff ties as white inmate transport buses moved in.
Atlanta police arrested 64 people during Sunday’s protests, Sgt. John Chafee said in a statement after midnight.
Georgia’s governor, Republican Brian Kemp, had authorized up to 3,000 National Guard troops to be deployed across the state to respond if needed amid the continuing protests.
Also Sunday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that two police officers had been fired and three others were placed on desk duty over excessive use of force during a weekend incident during the protests.
Guard soldiers bolstered police as they did during a curfew the previous night in Atlanta, where violence has marred otherwise peaceful protests since the demonstrations erupted Friday.
“The protesters need to know we’re going to support their efforts in a peaceful, nonviolent protest,” Kemp said earlier. “The agitators need to know that we’ll be there, like you saw tonight, to take them to jail if they’re destroying lives and property.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order Sunday extending the curfew in the city, according to text and email notifications sent to residents. Taking effect at 9 p.m. Sunday it ends at sunrise Monday. The curfew was imposed after demonstrations Friday night turned violent with people setting fires, damaging vehicles and smashing shop and restaurant windows.
Atlanta police said Sunday they had arrested nearly 230 people overall after the first two nights of protests after incidents Saturday night in which protesters threw rocks at officers and broke windows in the downtown area.
At a Sunday evening news conference before the latest curfew took hold, Atlanta’s mayor said she and police Chief Erika Shields made the decision to fire the two officers after reviewing body-camera footage of a Saturday night incident that first gained attention from video online and on local news.
“Use of excessive force is never acceptable,” Bottoms said.
Televised video showed a group of officers in riot gear and gas masks surround a car being driven by a man with a woman passenger. The officers pull the woman out and appear to use a stun gun on the man. They use zip-tie handcuffs on the woman on the ground. The couple did not appear to be fighting police.
Bottoms said charges have been dropped against the woman, and the man has been released.
Elsewhere Sunday, in the downtown historic district of Savannah, a large crowd of peaceful demonstrators — white and black, many wearing masks — marched to City Hall. They chanted, “No peace, no justice!” and “I can’t breathe” while hoisting signs with slogans including “Black Lives Matter” and “Can’t Jog, Can’t Breathe, Can’t Black.”
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson joined the demonstration and spoke outside City Hall, promising a “data-driven” effort to root out racial disparities in the way police and other city agencies conduct business.
“All police officers are not bad. We’ve just got to get rid of the bad ones,” said Johnson, a former police officer who is black.
Kemp declared a state of emergency late Friday for Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta. Late Saturday, he expanded that order to include the entire state for a period extending through next weekend.
An Atlanta motorcycle officer was on foot at an intersection when he was struck Saturday night by someone riding an ATV in downtown Atlanta, Chafee said. He said the officer suffered “significant injuries to his legs,” but was alert, talking and stable.
Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who worked for the Minneapolis Police Department, is charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Floyd died after Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, even after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air.
Arbery was killed Feb. 23 in Brunswick, a Georgia port city south of Savannah, after a white father and son armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-old black man after spotting him running in their neighborhood.
Greg McMichael, 64, and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, were arrested and charged with felony murder May 7 — more than two months after the killing — after cellphone video of Arbery’s death leaked online. A neighbor, 50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., has also been charged with felony murder. Greg McMichael told police he thought Arbery was a burglar and that Arbery attacked his son before being shot.