Standing outside CNN Center, two black teenage siblings explain that they are scared for their older cousins and tired of fearing if their father is in danger. “Will he come home?” said the older sister, a 14 year old who made the trip from Braselton to join thousands of people to demand an end to white supremacy and justice for black people like George Floyd, the Minneapolis man whose killing by a police officer snapped a country out of a pandemic-induced stupor to take to the streets. “I want to live in a world where everyone is accepted for who they are. People are judging books by their covers, which gets them shot for no reason.”
Starting around 3 p.m. from Centennial Olympic Park, young and old activists holding signs and chanting the names of black people killed by police marched south toward the CNN Center and through downtown before ending at the Georgia Capitol. Then, they marched back toward Centennial Olympic Park where Atlanta Police Department officers corralled the crowd in front of CNN Center. APD chief Erika Shields visited the protest just before 7 p.m. and spoke with protestors about policing and answered their questions. Emma, an 18-year-old Atlanta native who asked not to use her real name because she feared angering her parents for attending the protest, said she was angry that the same battles her parents and grandparents fought decades ago are being fought countless times every day across the country—in courtrooms, police stops, and everyday interactions in society. “I remember being five and hearing about them killing a teenage boy. I remember my mom protesting because they were doing this shit back since the 1960s. They have not stopped.”
Around 7 p.m., the peaceful march and protest changed in tone as scuffles and confrontations between some protesters and police escalated into a relatively small number of protesters setting a police car on fire and spray painting the CNN Center—including the large logo statue outside its studios—with graffiti like “Fuck the police.” Armored SWAT vehicles and riot police formed a wall, bicycle cops restricted access to the general park area, and a standoff punctuated by some protesters throwing eggs and bottles—and accusations by protesters that police were firing rubber bullets at them—began. A first aid area was set up by protesters near the Olympic rings statue at the park’s entrance where people could wash tear gas from their eyes with whole milk.
At a 9 p.m. press conference from the APD headquarters a few blocks away, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told protesters if they loved Atlanta, they’d get off the streets—the destruction filling the airwaves and social media feeds was not how the city that raised Martin Luther King Jr. protested, she said. Killer Mike urged protesters to channel their anger at the ballot box in November.
For hours, police armed with batons and tear gas tried to corral the remaining several hundred protesters and onlookers near Centennial Olympic Park and slowly push them back away from CNN Center. Some members of the crowd busted the windows of a Waffle House, and Peachtree Street restaurants, office buildings, and banks, or set small fires in trash cans. Several miles north, in Buckhead, another set of protesters ransacked Phipps Plaza, looted Target, and set fire to a Kroger, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and unsubstantiated videos shared on social media.
Atlanta Police this morning had not released a list of names and charges of people who were arrested last night. Police did say on Facebook that several officers were injured but the department did not have a confirmed list of protester, police, and bystander injuries as of Saturday morning.