Black Lives Matter (ATL): The State of the Protests

Author//A.X. Johnson. Repost Editor: A. Hannah Spadafora

See: Original Forum Post shared in The Human Chat

Protest Sign: Black Lives Matter. Photo from Unsplash

Introduction

On Friday night, May 29th, several groups in Atlanta launched protests in solidarity with the national Justice for George Floyd movement. I started attending protests that Sunday, on the 31st. Almost a month later, as the protests continued, I began to wonder why nothing had changed in Atlanta, even after the national issue became a local one following the murder of Rayshard Brooks by the APD. On June 22nd, I made a Facebook status update where I suggested that part of the problem was that different groups were advocating for completely different policy reforms. I started this series as a way to update my friends on my progress towards finding an answer to this question.


The State of Things 001 (6/23)

*Rayshard Brooks was buried today. I met his aunt last week at a protest on University Ave. I wasn't able to attend the full funeral, but I caught the hearse as it was pulling out of the church.

*Justin Miller, an attorney with Morgan & Morgan representing the family, gave a brief statement at the end, telling protesters to, "stay in the streets until real change happens."


*Speaking of which...the protests appear to be expanding. The on-again, off-again protests outside of the Zone 3 precinct seem to be permanently on now, and someone has called for protests outside of the Fulton County jail as well. It was small today, but I have a feeling they'll be back tomorrow.


*The situation at University Avenue continues to deteriorate. APD has flatly stated that they will not respond to any call made from the immediate area until further notice and this announcement appears to have attracted a bizarre mix of armed lunatics, street racers, and first time activists.


*While we're on the subject ....the white woman suspected of torching Wendy's turned out to be Brook's girlfriend. So thanks to everyone for snitching on her. But, also, Brooks is married to a Black woman, so get ready for some full on character assassination whenever this mess gets sorted out.

*Yesterday, I mentioned that I couldn't find anything that explained which groups were advocating for what policies. Today as I started to sift through names and contact info, I immediately discovered why no one has done this already--there's a real Russian doll problem going on here. For example, if you met someone from the NAACP at a protest, are they from the National NAACP, the Georgia NAACP or the Atlanta NAACP? As it turns out, this is really important to know.


*To end things on a lighter note, I found out that there was skater protest on Sunday. About a hundred skaters gathered downtown to shred rails and support the movement. Totally rad.


The State of Things 002 (6/27)

*There were several protests in Atlanta yesterday; at Centennial Park, the Capitol, Little Five Points and of course, University Avenue. There was also a protest in Marietta. Today there will be protests at Stone Mountain, Grant Park, Woodruff Park, and the Inman Park MARTA station

*If you think that all of this is gonna stop soon, you need to wake up from that bad dream you're having. People are already promoting multiple protests for the July 4th weekend, and some of the protest groups are out there five days per week.


*The tone at University Avenue has gone from mourning to rage to determination. Members and leaders from various civic organizations gathered at the Wendy's yesterday to update the community on their efforts to lobby City Hall and the state legislature. I'll get into that in more depth later on.


*I had a brief discussion with someone from the Atlanta Citizen Review Board. The ACRB has realized that most people in Atlanta aren't aware that they exist and they're trying to come up with a plan to fix that. I volunteered to help and expect to hear back from them soon.

*I've finally managed to un-tangle the mess of who's advocating what here in Atlanta. Now, I just need to organize my notes and maybe add some jazzy images to it or something.


*On this day in 1990, Nelson Mandela spoke to a crowd of over 50,000 people at Bobby Dodd stadium at Georgia Tech. He had been released from prison only four months prior and was then the deputy president of the ANC. Mandela also visited Morehouse, Big Bethel, and the MLK center during his visit.

The State of Things 003 (7/1)

As I mentioned last week, I've been spending some time talking to the leaders of various protest groups downtown, trying to find out what their demands are. To my complete surprise, about half of the groups out there are *literally* just people who created a flier and posted it on Instagram or Twitter. No strategy, no demands, no attempt to contact lawmakers, just #blacklivesmatter and go.This is only part of the story however. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Georgia NAACP which, among other things, almost single-handedly pushed a hate crime bill through both houses of our state legislature in less than a month. But if we have an organization with that kind of power fighting on our side, what happened to #defundpolice? Well...


The simplest answer I can give to that question is that the groups who are in favor of defunding or abolishing the police have no connections to our local elected officials and the groups that are connected to City Hall and the Gold Dome are not in favor of defunding or abolishing the cops. In other words, if you support reforming the Atlanta Police Department everything's going great. But if you support defunding or abolishing APD, then the money and the power is in the wrong hands.The most frustrating example of this dynamic was the Atlanta City Council vote on defunding APD. A collection of protest groups centered at University Avenue successfully lobbied the city council to withhold $70 million from the APD 2021 budget until Mayor Bottoms agreed to the community's demands. On the day of the vote however, several council members changed their minds and ultimately the measure failed....by one vote. It seems almost certain that this motion would've passed if one of the larger civil rights organizations (like SCLC or NAACP) had gotten involved but those groups are still married to the idea of reform.


So that's where we're at right now, but for everyone who's interested in doing more than giving the cops yet another slap on the wrist, all is not lost. The Citizens Review Board is getting stronger and there's still an opportunity to influence APD's use of force policies.


The State of Things 004 (7/5)

*Today marks day 36 of protests in Atlanta.


*Earlier this evening, a large group of activists surrounded the Zone 3 precinct once again and someone started blasting "Knuck if You Buck" by Crime Mob. No word yet on whether or not anyone actually bucked.


*A Black militia held an armed protest at Stone Mountain this weekend. Cops showed up but kept their distance. The group is called (and I am not making this up) the Not Fucking Around Coalition.


*A group of 60 people appeared outside of the GA State Patrol HQ and pointed lasers at cops. Then they left on bicycles. Not sure if this was a weird prank or a distraction for a related action somewhere else.


The State of Things 005 (7/7)

*During the last update, I mentioned that there was a weird event at the Georgia State Patrol Headquarters that might've been a cover for a different action. Well, it was, but it turns out that the action was at the GSP HQ itself. An unknown group rolled up on them Sunday and lit the place on fire.

*During the holiday weekend an 8 year old girl and a 53 year old man were killed at the Univ Ave and Pryor intersection. The DSA has asked all protest groups in Atlanta to stop planning actions at this location. Said request has already been denied.


*A local journalist has claimed that 60% of ATL beat cops were absent during the "Blue Flu". So if you're wondering that the percentage of good to bad cops is in Atlanta, there's your sign.


*Gov. Kemp has announced that he's bringing back the National Guard. They will be deployed to protect state buildings (and his mansion). The main purpose of the Guard will be to free up other state agencies to monitor the various protests.


*Mayor Bottoms has tested positive for coronavirus.


The State of the Protests 006 (7/8)

*The Atlanta City Council has adopted the #8cantwait platform for police reform. This isn't a total loss for the movement, but I think that most people will look at these 'reforms' and just ask why some of these things weren't already mandatory. For example, officers will now be required to intervene if they see another officer violating the use of force rules. In other words, City Hall has *literally* passed a law that says that cops have to stop other cops from breaking the law. For some reason that's not already a law.

*Other things passed during the same session include an exploratory committee to find a street to place a Black Lives Matter mural on and designating Juneteenth as a city holiday.

*The woman who organizes the daily protest at the capitol building has tested positive for coronavirus. This situation, combined with the presence of the National Guard will probably stop people from protesting at the Capitol, but I guess we'll see.

The State of the Protests 007 (7/11)

The person who started the state capitol protests tested positive for Coronavirus. Since then, she has handed organizing duties over to someone else, and the protests have now resumed. And speaking of the Capitol:

*The National Guard has returned to Atlanta. In the downtown area, the only thing they're guarding is the state capitol (which has its own police department, btw) and it seems that Kemp has asked them to guard the statues on the capitol grounds specifically. Because that's what's important.

*There was a protest at University Avenue today attempting to re-establish community control over the Wendy's. I spoke to some of the organizers and got some info for my on-going project compiling the demands of the various protest groups.

*While I was at the Wendy's, I saw a situation developing with a man there named George Chidi. I walked over to prevent him from being completely surrounded (which didn't work) and then to my surprise, someone appeared and demanded that I leave. There's a lot more that could be said about this event, but the short version is that there's a very serious set of conversations that needs to be had about how we move forward, and these people are not interested in being a part of said conversation.

The State of the Protests 008 (7/14)

*The Wendy's on University Avenue was demolished this morning around 9AM. City Hall has claimed that the franchise owner requested this, not the city, but either way, this appears to be the end of the occupation/Rayshard Brooks Peace Center. As I toured the remains of the site, I noticed a message left by a local graffiti artist which seemed to signal the latest change in tone at University Ave. The tag reads simply, "Vote".

*The #DefundPolice movement in Atlanta has thrown its support behind the 'Rayshard Brooks Bill,' a motion which will give the city the power to withhold nearly half of APD's budget until Mayor Bottoms either (a) signs significant new accountability measures, or (b) agrees to a timeline, controlled by the city council, to create and adopt those measures. The bill has been defeated twice, but Antonio Brown (councilman for district 3) is bringing it back a third time.

*I've updated the document collecting the various lists of demands. Version 2 highlights demands that have already been achieved and also updates things which have changed since Monday.


The State of the Protests 009 (7/21)

*Several memorials were held over the weekend to mark the passing of C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, two giants of the Civil Rights Movement. A public meeting was called on Monday via Zoom to nominate a replacement for Rep. Lewis. The committee eventually settled on Nikema Williams, the chair of the Democratic party in Georgia.

*After 50 consecutive days of protests, the "Line of Solidarity" action at Centennial Park ended on Sunday. The organizers have moved the event online and are now referring to it as a "virtual protest," but it still seems important to point out that up to this point, there was a protest somewhere in the city limits of Atlanta *literally* every day. That's no longer the case but the protests haven't stopped completely. There will be more this weekend.

*The Atlanta City Council recently passed an ordinance requiring APD to adopt the measures of the #8cantwait campaign. This motion was then vetoed by Mayor Bottoms, who claimed that the motion was passed in the wrong format. Meanwhile, Antonio Brown's third attempt at passing the Rayshard Brooks Bill was also defeated after being killed in the finance committee. Ironically, he was approached by several activists after that meeting and now says that he supports an even more radical platform, #8toabolition.


The State of the Protests 010 (8/16) (updated post: 08/25/2020)

There was a protest and a counter-protest yesterday on Main Street in Stone Mountain. The park is owned by a quasi-government entity, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, which was established by an act of the Georgia State Legislature. It receives no tax funds but manages the park on behalf of the state government. The protest was organized by a diverse group of racists including members and leaders of white supremacist, Neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Confederate groups. The stated aim of the protest was to “protect” the city of Stone Mountain from Antifa/BLM (1) and to serve as a rebuttal to the continuing George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks protests in Atlanta.


The counter-protest was organized by several local anti-racist organizations, mainly Frontline Organization Working to End Racism (F.L.O.W.E.R.), Democratic Socialists of America (Atl DSA), and the Atlanta Anti-Fascists (ANTIFA.) (2) Initially the protest was scheduled to take place inside of Stone Mountain Park but after the park denied their permit application, some groups abandoned the rally, while others attempted to organize a smaller protest elsewhere in the city. This led to a staggered series of arrivals and departures, as some groups appeared and were unable to locate others, while larger organizations began to coalesce.


The protest began somewhere around 8:45 AM with roughly 15 armed members of the 3% Militia standing behind a barricade. A young man with a Confederate Battle Flag was also with the group, although they later claimed that they didn’t know him. (3) The counter protest began at 9:00 AM and shortly after a group of Anti-Fascists approached the Confederate standard-bearer. As a crowd of counter-protesters began surrounding the Three Percenters, someone jumped forward, snapped the Confederate standard in half and ran off with the flag. The militia men attempted to give chase, but were blocked on all sides. One lashed out by throwing a bottle of urine. Minutes later, they began a slow retreat, which ended when they returned to their cars and drove off about an hour later.


A few blocks away, a much larger party arrived, centered around the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV.) (4) Unlike the earlier clash with the Three Percenters, the entire counter-protest moved to encircle the SCV. With equal numbers of guns on both sides and the road blocked by pickup trucks, the situation quickly turned into a tense stalemate. The situation changed when a teenager slipped into the SCV line and grabbed a Confederate flag. Another person came forward with lighter fluid, and they burned it. This angered the SCV for obvious reasons and armed members responded by shoving unarmed protesters. A swarm of counter-protesters broke through and engulfed those responsible and rather than fire their weapons, the SCV backed down. This cycle repeated itself numerous times ,and as a result, the “front line” disappeared.


Eventually the SCV and affiliates grew tired of their inability to intimidate the men from the counter protest and began to focus their attention on the women instead. (5) One incident was ignited by the return of the infamous Flag Snatching Kid who yanked a confederate flag out of the hands of an unsuspecting man and then evaporated into the crowd. Unable to locate the culprit, the former-confederate flag waiver decided to push the nearest woman. His face was immediately met with a flurry of blows and he tumbled to the ground. A few people tried to kick him when he was down, but another group quickly formed a ring to allow him to stand up. At first, he refused to walk away, but someone brought his mother over, and she convinced him to leave the scene.


While all of this was going on, several people came into the event with their own bizarre agendas. A woman in a black tank top and black yoga pants came in and danced the entire time with a speaker on her back. A street preacher with a bullhorn exhorted the crowd to receive Jesus’s blessings by abandoning homosexuality. And a local man who claimed that he was just walking his dog showed up and stayed for the entire rally.


Some of the folks at the rally had very clear motives, however. I heard from three separate individuals that they were just there to fight--but strangely enough, none of them actually ended up in a fight. Also, despite the large number of guns, armed protesters always seemed to prefer verbal insults or brandishing knives to even insinuating that they would fire. It wasn’t all for show, however. Several protesters were armed with pepper spray and actually used it. Photos have also shown them using wasp spray--a federal crime, (6) and there have additionally been claims that some of the 'pepper spray' was actually OC spray--a military grade weapon.


Around noon, as most of the SCV members with trucks began to leave, the police moved in with riot gear, backed up by the National Guard. They separated both groups and threatened to arrest anyone who didn’t leave immediately. Both groups left the area, and no arrests were made.

See the document collecting the various lists of demands and organizational notes on the protests referenced in this article here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1e5YYFcGXM-CxjnahZ9bhuYsXCIbg99bt/view

A.X. Johnson has been in Atlanta long enough to remember when the Journal and the Constitution were separate papers.The Olympic torch went by his apartment complex when he was a kid and he was the last person to enter the Georgia Archives before it was demolished. He has fond memories of Murder Kroger and the Masquerade and his hobbies include arguing about whether or not a given building is actually "downtown". He started taking photographs in high school with a disposable camera and he still takes photos of things every now and again.

Article: Black Lives Matter (ATL): The State of the Protests. Column: The Activist Platform.

See also: Original forum post

Related forum post by same author: Behind Enemy Lines (Photography, Trump Rally)

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