Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was clear as she gave Atlantans a passionate plea: “If you care about this city then go home.”
“This is not a protest. This is chaos. A protest has purpose,” Bottoms said. “You are not honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. You’re not protesting anything running out with brown liquor in your hands, breaking windows in this city. T.I. and Killer Mike own half the West Side, so when you burn down this city, you are burning down our community.”
The speech was part of a 9 p.m. press conference after a peaceful protest downtown became destructive. Hundreds of protestors gathered around 3:00 p.m. and peacefully marched against police brutality in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But as the police corralled the protest outside CNN center, some began to vandalize the building and CNN statue and smash the windows of police cars parked outside. One police car was set on fire.
She continued: “If you want change in America, go and register to vote. Show up at the polls on June 9. Do it in November. That is the change we need in this country. You are disgracing this 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.”
“Go home,” she implored protesters. “I cannot protect you out in those streets.”
Rappers T.I. and Killer Mike both gave speeches after the mayor’s address. “When everything else goes away, when you don’t get treated right in New York or L.A., Atlanta has been here for us,” T.I. said. “This city don’t deserve this. This is Wakanda; it’s sacred. We must protect it.”
“I didn’t want to come, and I don’t want to be here,” Killer Mike said, sounding close to tears as he tapped his hands on the podium. “I’m the son of an Atlanta city police officer, my cousin is an Atlanta city police officer, and my other cousin is a police officer in East Point. I’ve got a lot of love and respect for police officers, down to the original eight police officers in Atlanta that even after becoming police had to dress in a YMCA because white officers didn’t want to get dressed with n***ers. And here we are 80 years later, I watched a white officer assassinate a black man, and I know that tore your heart out.”
He wiped tears from his eyes and continued, “And I know that’s crippling. And I have nothing positive to say, in this moment, because I don’t want to be here. But I’m responsible to be here because it wasn’t just Dr. King and people dressed nicely who marched and protested to progress this city and so many other cities. It was people like my grandmother, people like my aunts and uncles who were members of the SCLC and NCAAP, and in particular Reverend James Orange, Mrs. Alice Johnson, and Reverend [Albert] Love, who we just lost last year. So I am duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with the enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization. And now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize. It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth. It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable, chiefs and deputy chiefs.”
“I am mad as hell,” he continued. “I woke up wanting to see the world burn down yesterday because I’m tired of seeing black men die. He casually put his knee on a human being’s neck for nine minutes as he died like a zebra in the clutch of a lion’s jaw, and we watch it like murder porn over and over again. So that’s why children are burning it to the ground. They don’t know what else to do. And it is the responsibility of us to make this better, right now. We don’t want to see one officer charged. We want to see four officers prosecuted and sentenced. We don’t want to see Targets burning; we want to see the system that sets up for systemic racism burnt to the ground.”
“My question for us on the other side of this camera is, after it burns, will we be charred or will we rise like a phoenix out of the ashes like Atlanta has always done?” he asked.
He urged Atlantans to fill out their census forms and “beat up the politicians you don’t like” by voting. “I hate I can’t fix it in a snap. I hate that Atlanta’s not perfect for as good as we are. But 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 else we got?”
Activists Joe Beasley, Bernice King, and Derrick Boazman spoke next, who all echoed Bottoms’s plea for Atlantans to return home.
King said she understood what it was like to be George Floyd’s daughter. “It set me on a journey of anger, and I fought that demon for a long time. And this is a moment where people are feeling a lot of stuff right now and are fed up. But as I stand in this moment and look at my journey, I have to make an appeal to my brothers and sisters. Because I realize the only way to get constructive change is through nonviolent means.”
She addressed her father Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote about rioting. “He said to us, ‘Riots are the language of the unheard.’ And the part we often miss when people use it is the part about the unheard. This is a time when we all have to listen, we have to listen to the cries that are coming out of the hearts and the souls of my young brothers and sisters in the streets of America right now and in our city.”
“The changes have to happen,” she continued. “We can’t go back to yesterday. We’ve got to deal with systemic racism and white supremacy once and for all. But the only pathway I know to do this is through nonviolent means.”
“I feel you, trust me I feel you,” she concluded. “But I can’t go back to all I felt inside and the rage inside that wanted me to destroy people and destroy lives. Because I know the only way to get what we really want it and really get it and not just crumbs is through nonviolence and peace. And so please, let’s stay focused in that way and remember, everybody is not on the same page. There are people who would try to incite a race war in this country. Let’s not fall into their hands and into their trap. There is another way.”