ATLANTA — Thousands of demonstrators led by the Georgia NAACP marched to the Georgia State Capitol Monday to demand state legislators support criminal justice reform, stop police violence and improve elections. The legislature resumed its 2020 session Monday morning after a recess caused by the coronavirus.
The protest was scheduled before Atlanta police shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a black man, Friday night. Now-former Atlanta Police Department Chief Erika Shields resigned from her position Saturday.
Brooks’ death follows weeks of protests across the country against racism and police brutality.
“It’s been traumatizing for hundreds of years,” said James Thornton, an African American man who attended the protest. “This is about solidarity. It’s about awareness. It’s about progressive change, radical change, not just reform and redoing something. Systems have to be torn down.”
Guest speakers took to the stage at the Richard B. Russell Federal Building before the march to rally the crowd and list their demands. They demanded the state legislature repeal the state “citizen’s arrest” and “stand your ground” laws and enact hate crimes legislation.
Both laws have been used as a justification in the Ahmaud Arbery case, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting. Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was jogging through a Brunswick neighborhood in February when he was shot and killed after being pursued by a white father and son.
Charges weren’t filed until two months later against Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., who filmed the shooting. A leaked video of the shooting prompted the charges. An investigator later testified that Travis McMichael allegedly used a racial slur after the shooting, NBC News said.
Protesters demonstrated in Brunswick in May before the more recent protests sparked by the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and in memory of the other black men and women across the country killed by police.
“We’ve kind of seen this, endured it. Everyone’s tired of it,” Thornton said.
The citizen’s arrest law was codified in 1863 and allows a civilian to arrest another person if they have “immediate knowledge” the other person committed a crime. American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young said at the march the law needs to go.
“I’m not happy to be here this morning, fighting for due process and racial justice, fighting to repeal a citizen’s arrest law … used then and now to oppress black people and used today to justify the killing of Ahmaud Arbery,” Young said.
Multiple speakers called for the resignation of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Marchers also protested for improvement to state elections after voters faced widespread issues at Georgia polling locations on June 9, the day of the combined presidential primary, party primaries and general election.
Atlanta-based rapper Jeezy hosted the rally before the march. Other speakers included Wanda Mosley of Black Voters Matter, state Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, and state Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta.
DeKalb County CEO and Clarke County native Michael Thurmond, Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, and the Rev. James Woodall, who’s the Georgia NAACP president, also took to the stage to voice their opinions and call for racial justice.
Thurmond told the young people in the crowd he’s proud of them, and he urged everyone to vote in November.
“I want you to vote. I want you to vote for yourself. I want you to vote for your children that are not yet born. I want you to vote for your great, great-grandchildren not yet born,” Thurmond said. “But more than that, I want you to vote for your great-great-grandmother, who was enslaved and could not vote.”
Spencer Donovan | Staff Writer and Kyle Soto | Contributor | Red & Black