John Lewis Calls For Peaceful Protests After 70 Atlanta Arrests

Andrea V. Watson

ATLANTA, GA — Day two of protests in Atlanta against police brutality ended with 70 arrests, according to police. Even with a city curfew in place, ordered by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, people didn’t stay off the streets; a curfew will be in place again Sunday night.

Civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis, who is battling cancer, posted on social media that he understands their pain, but urged Atlantans to organize and demonstrate peacefully.

“I know your pain, your rage, your sense of despair and hopelessness. Justice has, indeed, been denied for far too long," Lewis wrote. "Rioting, looting, and burning is not the way. Organize. Demonstrate. Sit-in. Stand-up. Vote. Be constructive, not destructive.”

The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in coastal Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and George Floyd in Minnesota sparked a movement for justice, not just in Atlanta, but across the country. But protests have included vandalism to businesses in Buckhead and stores at Lenox Square were ransacked.

The curfew was in effect until sunrise Sunday, but the mayor has extended it. A curfew will again start at 9 p.m. and last until sunrise Monday. The executive order comes after a protest turned into a violent riot Friday night, injuring officers, damaging patrol vehicles and more.

Target said Sunday that the Buckhead South Atlanta store is closed until further notice.

Target employees that are affected by the temporary store closure will be paid for up to 14 days of scheduled hours, including the COVID-19 premium pay. Staff members can also choose to work at other nearby Target locations that are open.

Related: Truck Speeds Through Minneapolis Protesters; Unrest Elsewhere

Gov. Brian Kemp has also placed all of Georgia under a state of emergency. Kemp will activate 3,000 National Guard troops to try to ensure that protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis remain peaceful.

As of Saturday around 10:30 p.m., Atlanta police said a police motorcycle was hit by an ATV at the intersection of Marietta Street and Spring Street. The officer had been stationed at the intersection to block traffic from continuing on Marietta Street, into the area where protestors were present, according to investigators.

An ATV first drove past at a high speed, then came back driving fast again and struck the officer who was standing near his motorcycle.

The officer sustained injuries on his legs and was taken to Grady Hospital in stable condition by a nearby Georgia National Guard medical unit.

The ATV rider was taken into custody on scene and has been transported to Grady Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

A small amount of marijuana and a handgun were recovered from the ATV rider, police said. The cause of the collision is being investigated.

Police Chief Erika Shields said at a Saturday press conference that within Friday's protesters was a group of people not from Atlanta — she said it was clear they didn't know the area as they walked — and they were bent on causing violence. She called them a terrorist organization.

"These were not Atlantans, they were lost in the protest, they didn't know how to march to the state capitol," she said.

Local activists who are known to police didn't know the troublemakers, the chief said.

Mayor Bottoms said what started as a peaceful demonstration, quickly turned into "mayhem and unnecessary destruction." The result was an "assault on businesses that are already struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic."

Lewis released a statement:

"Sixty-five years have passed, and I still remember the face of young Emmett Till. It was 1955. I was 15 years old — just a year older than him. What happened that summer in Money, Mississippi, and the months that followed — the recanted accusation, the sham trial, the dreaded verdict — shocked the country to its core. And it helped spur a series of non-violent events by everyday people who demanded better from our country.

“Despite real progress, I can't help but think of young Emmett today as I watch video after video after video of unarmed Black Americans being killed, and falsely accused. My heart breaks for these men and women, their families, and the country that let them down — again.”

Lewis said that this is a “special” moment in history.

“Just as people of all faiths and no faiths, and all backgrounds, creeds, and colors banded together decades ago to fight for equality and justice in a peaceful, orderly, non-violent fashion, we must do so again,” he said.

In President Donald Trump’s recent tweets, he calls for protesters to "honor the memory of George Floyd" peacefully. He also refers to them as “thugs” and threatens to bring out "the unlimited power of our Military." Trump says Minnesota's Democratic leaders aren’t doing enough, calling out their mayor.

Mayor Bottoms told USA Today that Trump's tweets have done nothing to bring calm during a tension-filled time when anti-police brutality protests have turned violent in multiple cities.

“This is not about using military force. This is about where we are in America. We are beyond a tipping point in this country. And his rhetoric only inflames that. And he should just sometimes stop talking," Bottoms said.

Related: Businesses Find Broken Windows, Trash Day After ATL Riot

This article originally appeared on the Atlanta Patch