Photo Credit: Getty Images
On Saturday, December 6, Atlanta residents took the streets in solidarity for better police procedures. One group of 200 hit the sidewalk on the 17th Street Bridge, while another marched on Marietta.
Trisha Polite, a Douglasville resident, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution why the rally was silent. “We’ve had a lot of chanting and marching and even some rioting lately, and we wanted to find an effective way to say something people would hear.”
The AJC reports that Saturday, December 6, saw several different protests in the metro area, including one in Cobb County. But the lion’s share of coverage came from the “die-in” on the bridge. 17th Street is a major road in Atlanta, one of the few bridges over the Downtown Connector (I-75/I-85)—and the newest, shiniest one.
17th Street is also how people access Atlantic Station, a huge shopping plaza and home to Atlanta’s IKEA. It’s also one way to access Georgia Tech’s downtown campus. And students definitely counted because a large portion of the group were from historically black colleges, sororities and fraternities.
Atlantic Station had been the intended target today for the flash mob style protest, but the AJC reports that due to management saying that won’t be happening on private property, the protesters moved to the street in front of the area.
For fifteen and a half minutes, the protestors lay silently in the road, blocking traffic and making sure that Atlanta residents realized the volume of anguish that racism and police brutality. Eleven minutes represented the struggle that Eric Garner ultimately lost while pleading “I can’t breathe” in New York City, while four and a half minutes signified the time Michael Brown‘s body lay on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri.
Atlanta has a long history in the civil rights movement, so it’s not surprising die-ins are occurring as the rest of the nation looks for more accountability in police killings.
Many protestors held signs saying “I Can’t Breathe” or “We ALL Matter.” And that’s a very powerful message for the home of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Earlier this summer, the Center for Civil and Human Rights opened up, just off Ivan Allen, Jr. Boulevard in downtown Atlanta. Merging the American Civil Rights Movement with current international Human Rights Movements, the idea is to bring messages of peace and humanity to city, regional, national, and world.
While we respect the right to gather/protest on public property, our policy’s in place so everyone has the opportunity to shop, eat & enjoy.— Atlantic Station (@AtlanticStation) December 6, 2014
AS is private property w/a conduct code that prohibits protesting of any kind. We respect your rights but respect our guests’ rights as well— Atlantic Station (@AtlanticStation) December 6, 2014
Attendees told Fox 5 Atlanta that by stopping the traffic at 3 p.m. today, the need for police procedural accountability is not a new request, but the lack of grand jury indictment in clear cases of abuse shows a overtly consistent problem. Throughout the nation, people silently protested on Saturday. Letting one voice speak for many and letting the message of equality ring out peacefully.
A group called Atlanta Ferguson Solidarity Committee wanted to occupy Woodruff Park movement, but the mayor nixed the idea. Creative Loafing Atlanta posted Mayor Kasim Reed’s statement on the movement, and Reed admitted to understanding the frustration:
As I said last week, I understand the frustration and anger many of Atlanta’s residents are feeling. I am feeling this same frustration following the news that the officer who killed Eric Garner will not be subject to indictment. This sad news came too soon after Americans learned that the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., would not have to face a jury of his peers.
On the heels of praising Atlanta’s “proud tradition of non-violent, peaceful protest” and saying that those who caused trouble in the Underground Atlanta protests were not native to the area, he still condemned the idea of Woodruff Park. In 2011, the Occupy movement set up for over a week, battling charges of trespassing and overzealous police. However, this time the mayor will not abide by the actions, saying:
In 2011, Occupy Atlanta protestors were allowed to stay in Woodruff Park for more than one week in a demonstration of our city’s commitment to upholding our citizen’s rights to free speech. When protestors began to violate safety ordinances and became a threatening presence to downtown residents and businesses, the park was closed and all protestors were removed from the park. The occupation put a burden on taxpayers, officers, as well as downtown visitors, residents, and business owners.
I continue to urge all protestors to express their opinions peacefully, in a non-violent fashion that does not violate our city’s laws, but I want to send a clear message to those who choose to gather this Saturday at Woodruff Park: protestors will not be allowed to stay beyond 11 p.m. when the park closes. All protesters will be asked to leave at this time. The [c]ity will not allow protestors to remain in the park and asks all people to cooperate for the safety of themselves and others.
And the AJC reports that Occupation of Woodruff Park was scheduled to start at the 7 p.m. when the Georgia Dome would be emptying from the SEC championship game. Organizers say they’re in this for the long-haul, but police have been informed to arrest anyone left in the park after 11 p.m. In fairness, the Atlanta police will give a warning, but after that, APD spokeswoman Elizabeth Espy says that arrests will happen.
Still encouraging the idea of a non-violent protest, the mayor seems to be on the side of those looking for answers and offering long-term, equal solutions.
Atlanta’s not just home to Martin Luther King, Jr, but Congressman John Lewis—who was a Freedom Rider in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement—and former mayor and current Ambassador Andrew Young. Fighting against racism and hate run deep in the city and many are looking to remind the world that peace is not something unattainable or far removed from consideration.
Reed signed off on the official statement by recalling the message that Michael Brown’s and Eric Garner’s families have requested: “protest, but protest peacefully and without breaking the law.” Hometown riots, like Ferguson, occur because of outside instigators, and the cities hurting right now are looking for civil disobedience.
Antonio French, the St. Louis Alderman, witnessed #HealSTL office and surrounding buildings destroyed in the Ferguson riot. No one wants to see the destruction overpower the message of accountability, especially in Atlanta–where the idea of peace and pride of the civil rights movement runs deep.
Lawrenceville resident Kenyatta Greer told the AJC, “I think it’s reached a tipping point.” Joining the protestors, she left the interview by saying “I think people think ‘I’ve voted, I’ve spread awareness every way I could, now I need another way to make my voice heard and maybe people will take it in.”
At the beginning of Saturday, Marietta, Georgia saw a peaceful one-mile march from South Marietta Parkway to the Cobb Public Safety Building, near downtown Marietta Square. Originally starting the march with 50 people, the suburban march ended up with nearly 75 at the end.
Russell Robertson, Cobb resident and president of Occupy the Hood Atlanta felt “Cobb County needs to be heard from.” He went on to say other organization, like the Cobb Immigrant Alliance and human rights group New Order, joined in. Standing in a t-shirt with New York Daily News’ Thursday cover, titled “We Can’t Breathe,” he felt the need for more.
“It’s one of the places where people are quiet and it’s the reason I called for this march today.”
Hopefully, Atlanta will live up to the challenge of peaceful protesting, for the sake of the crowds and the victims’ families. No one wants their murdered loved one’s legacy to lead to a smear campaign. After all, there are parties already running with the theory now. At this time, the Atlanta protestors just want people to realize #BlackLivesMatter and #WeCantBreathe.
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