After yet another controversial police killing of a black man — this time in Atlanta — about 30 protesters marched in Sandy Springs June 13 to condemn that incident and to call for local police funding to be shifted to social services.

“We’re having a protest to march for black lives,” said organizer and Sandy Springs resident Tema, who declined to give her full name.

Black Lives Matter protesters march on Johnson Ferry Road outside Sandy Springs City Hall June 13 to condemn a killing by Atlanta Police and to call for local police funding to be shifted to social services. In the background, a city banner advertises a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration; the banners have not been changed since pandemic shutdowns in March. (John Ruch)

The march went along Roswell Road, the city’s main street, from a Starbucks at the Plaza at City Springs shopping center to City Hall and back. The Starbucks was chosen because of the chain’s recent controversial order for employees not to wear personal “Black Lives Matter” gear, a policy that was partly reversed after media attention. Many passing drivers honked in support.

The protest was part of the nationwide and local demonstrations that have followed last month’s police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minnesota as well as many other killings of black people elsewhere. But, Tema said, a particular inspiration was the June 12 Atlanta Police shooting of a man named Rayshard Brooks. While the Sandy Springs protest was occurring, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the resignation of Police Chief Erika Shields over the killing, which the mayor called unjustified.

A reason to protest locally, Tema said, was a call to shift funds away from policing to other uses, varying forms of which are part of the “defund the police” movement within some of the nationwide protests.

The protesters pause outside Sandy Springs City Hall. (John Ruch)

Standing outside City Hall, part of an over $200 million civic center complex that opened in 2018, Tema said Sandy Springs is an example of where money could reallocated from police to social services or affordable housing. “And [we are] also in Sandy Springs because… they do have a large budget. Look at this building,” she said.

The killing of Brooks in Atlanta is the type of situation described by some “defund the police” supporters who call for an end to armed responses for nonviolent situations. Brooks allegedly fell asleep in his car in a fast-food drive-thru lane, a call that quickly escalated to the use of weaponry. Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said in recent comments to the Buckhead Business Association that unarmed “para-police” are one possible reform that may come out of the protests.

Tema said she and her family have had issues of bias with police in Sandy Springs, as well as in the neighboring cities of Dunwoody and Roswell.

The protesters pass the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center in the City Springs complex. (John Ruch)

“At least my family, we still live in fear… in Sandy Springs because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “We’ve had our fair share of microaggressions and racism,” she said, describing such incidents as a Roswell officer stopping her for going 5 mph over the speed limit and approaching with his hand on his gun. In Sandy Springs when Tema was 10 or 11, she said, the family was shocked by her father’s sudden arrest while pumping gas by officers who said his license plate matched one they were searching for. She said she did not recall the charge against him, but that she and her two young siblings were in the car at the time and left at the gas station by the officers.

During the march, protesters carried signs with such messages as “Know Justice, Know Peace” and “Whatever skin color, we always bleed red.” One said that black lives matter, as well as black children, black dreams, black love and black futures.

Three protesters display their signs outside the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center at City Springs as the groups heads back to the Starbucks where the march began. (John Ruch)

Others were more blunt with political demands. One bearing a cartoon pig face with X’s for eyes appeared to read, “Defund the pigs.” Another read, “It’ll be liberty or civil unrest! Time to [expletive] disrupt the power structure of racial bigotry!”

Sandy Springs has seen several protests since the Floyd movement began in metro Atlanta May 29. In response, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul has called for a citywide dialogue about racism and proposed renaming Lake Forrest Drive, a street that is rumored to be a tribute to a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.