Atlanta police chief says 'black lives being diminished' as Floyd protests grow

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

After hours of peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd, some demonstrators in downtown Atlanta turned violent on Friday night, smashing police cars, spray-painting a sign at CNN headquarters and breaking into restaurants and stores.

The crowd pelted officers with bottles, chanting “Quit your jobs.”

As the violence continued into the small hours of Saturday morning, Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, declared a state of emergency in the city and activated the US national guard.

The unrest had been triggered by the police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis, which has triggered demonstrations and confrontation across the America and cast a harsh spotlight on US policing’s track record of violence against black men.

Demonstrators in Atlanta ignored police demands to disperse. Some moved to the city’s major interstate thoroughfare, to try to block traffic. Shops were attacked in a luxury mall, police cars were set on fire and a visitors center at the city’s Centennial Olympic Park was torched.

Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s mayor, addressed the protesters at a news conference: “This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. You are disgracing our city.

“You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country. We are better than this. We are better than this as a city. We are better than this as a country. Go home, go home.”

Bottoms was flanked by rappers TI and Killer Mike, as well as King’s daughter, Bernice King. Killer Mike cried as he spoke. 

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“We have to be better than this moment. We have to be better than burning down our own homes. Because if we lose Atlanta what have we got?” he said.

The violence continued. More cars were set on fire, a Starbucks was smashed up, the windows of the College Football Hall of Fame were broken, and the Omni Hotel was vandalised.

Atlanta’s police chief said she understood the anger of African American communities across the US over the repeated deaths of black men at the hands of police forces.

“Whether it’s by police or other individuals, the reality is we’ve diminished the value on their life,” Erika Shields said.

Speaking as protests raged across American cities over the death of Floyd, Shields added the events in Minnesota were “appalling”.

Tensions in Atlanta have been running high since the the death of Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of two white men in the state of Georgia in February.

“It’s a recurring narrative. We keep having this over and over,” Shields said.

Asked how police departments across the country could do better, Shields said: “The key is training and weeding out bad cops especially when you a see a pattern of bad behaviour. I think it’s getting engaged with people and getting feedback in real time … Body-worn cameras have been tremendous, because they have shown us how a person is behaving when other people aren’t around. It has taken the grey area out when we’re dealing with complaints.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report