Atlanta Protesters Clash With Police as Mayor Warns ‘You Are Disgracing Our City’

Atlanta Protesters Clash With Police as Mayor Warns ‘You Are Disgracing Our City’

ATLANTA — Hundreds of demonstrators poured into the streets near Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park on Friday night, smashing windows and clashing with police officers in a protest that grew so tense that the city’s mayor forcefully told people to go home.

Not far from the park, the city’s iconic tourist destination, some people climbed atop a large red CNN sign outside the media company’s headquarters and spray-painted messages on it. Some people jumped on police cars. Others threw rocks at the glass doors of the Omni Hotel, eventually breaking the glass, and shattered windows at the College Football Hall of Fame, where people rushed in and emerged with branded fan gear.

“It’s enough,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in an evening news conference. “We are all angry. This hurts. This hurts everybody in this room. But what are you changing by tearing up a city? You’ve lost all credibility now. This is not how we change America. This is not how we change the world.”

Demonstrations unfolded in cities across the United States after a video emerged this week of a white Minneapolis police officer using his knee to pin down George Floyd, a black man who died in the incident. Mr. Floyd’s death set off nights of unrest in Minneapolis, as well as cities like New York, Houston and Washington. Some of the protests were peaceful while others turned destructive.

In Atlanta, Jay Clay, a 19-year-old graphic designer, watched the protests with a mixture of curiosity and solidarity.

Credit…Dustin Chambers/Reuters

“After all this injustice and prejudice, people get fed up,” Mr. Clay said. “I wanted to come down and check it out. But this feels like it’s getting out of hand.”

At CNN Headquarters, protesters smashed the lobby windows and seemed prepared to go inside during a tense face-off that was broadcast live on the cable network. A line of officers in riot gear blocked the way. At one point, protesters appeared to hurl a firework that set off a loud bang.

Near the College Football Hall of Fame, three cars were on fire, burning down to charred husks. A crowd gathered around an Atlanta Police lieutenant. A large SWAT vehicle was behind him, as was a phalanx of police, their faces hidden behind gas masks.

The lieutenant tried to reason with the crowd. “Your anger is justified. Your outrage is justified,” he told them. He tried to explain that the police needed to protect property, and keep the city from burning.

Cici Benjamin, 24, held a sign with a defiant insult directed toward the police. Ms. Benjamin, who is black, said she was from a small Caribbean island. Ms. Benjamin cried as she spoke of her brother, and how she thought he could never live in this country given the danger.

Asked how thing could ever change, she said she wasn’t sure. “People just want to live, and racist people don’t want that to happen,” she said.

Ms. Bottoms, the mayor, invoked her own experience as the black mother of four black children, one of whom is 18. She said when she saw Mr. Floyd die, “I hurt like a mother would hurt.”

But she said the demonstrations she saw in Atlanta were not a protest and not in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but “chaos.”

“You are disgracing our city, you are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country,” Ms. Bottoms said. “We are better than this. We are better than this as a city. We are better than this as a country. Go home. Go home.”

Richard Fausset reported from Atlanta and Michael Levenson from New York.

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