After a holiday weekend that saw dozens of people shot on the streets — including the killing of an 8-year-old girl — Gov. Brian Kemp has declared a state of emergency and authorized up to 1,000 Georgia National Guard troops to police Atlanta locations.
A Governor’s Office press release said the soldiers will guard Governor’s Mansion in Buckhead, the State Capitol and the Georgia Department of Public Safety headquarters on United Avenue, which was vandalized by protesters over the weekend. The idea is to free up local law enforcement to do more patrols elsewhere, though the language of Kemp’s official order is not specific about locations and applies statewide. The Guard soldiers will have arrest powers, but are advised to use them with “caution,” according to the order.
The emergency order runs through July 13 and overlaps with Kemp’s existing emergency order about the coronavirus pandemic, which already gives him broad powers to do virtually anything to contain it. The new order is based on state laws allowing the Guard to be used to “subdue riot and unlawful assembly” and authorizing the governor to order anyone to do anything in the immediate interest of public safety.
The shootings that left roughly 30 wounded and five dead appear to have had a variety of motives, but Kemp singled out crimes appearing to involve protesters, including the Public Safety headquarters vandalism and the death of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner. Turner was killed at a barricade set up by armed protesters near the Wendy’s restaurant on University Avenue where Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta police officers last month, fueling more Black Lives Matter protests.
“Peaceful protests were hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda. Now, innocent Georgians are being targeted, shot, and left for dead,” said Kemp in a press release. “This lawlessness must be stopped and order restored in our capital city. I have declared a state of emergency and called up the Georgia Guard because the safety of our citizens comes first. … Enough with the tough talk. We must protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”
His order uses the language of terrorism, saying, “Criminals are now victimizing Georgias to inflict chaos, cause fear among residents and thwart law enforcement…”
Kemp did not specify whose “tough talk” he spoke of in his press release, but his order adds political heat to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in an election year where she is widely discussed as a possible Democratic vice presidential nominee and where Republican candidates and groups are calling for a tougher approach to policing.
After Bottoms immediately declared the Brooks killing unjustified and had Police Chief Erika Shields resign, some Atlanta Police Department officers began calling out of work in protest and rumors of light enforcement by APD continue. The Bottoms administration had been negotiating with protesters occupying the area at and near the Wendy’s, but after Turner’s death on July 4, Bottoms declared an end to talks and had the site cleared. Hours after she held a press conference and called for an end to the violence, another man was shot to death near the Wendy’s site.
While gun violence has spiked in Atlanta this summer, some parts of the city were already seeing spikes before the protests and the Brooks killing. In Buckhead in May, residents were rattled by a string of shootings that included two killings, a masked gunman firing on an apartment security officer, and a man wounded while riding in a car.