As questions continue to swirl about “outside agitators” committing or inciting the violence, looting, arson, and vandalism seen during the Atlanta protests, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields reiterated that “a whole new element of extremists” were embedded with protesters.
With APD now reporting more than 500 arrests since the George Floyd protests began on May 29, Shields said during a June 4 briefing with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta City Council that arrest reports released to the media do not paint the entire picture of the “highly organized” agitators operating in the city.
Shield said the agitators are coming from other parts of the state and communicating and coordinating electronically. “Only 35 percent of those arrested are local,” Shields stated.
“The protests have put the department – and departments around the country – in a space that is unfamiliar,” Shields said. “There is a methodology to these attacks. They are working from a playbook and law enforcement is seeing it around the country.”
The chief said the FBI is bending over backwards to gather intelligence, so communities around the country “have some idea what is before us.”
Later in the afternoon, the GBI confirmed that 30 of the Atlanta protesters have previous arrest records, including involvement in civil unrest and protests. According to WSB, the GBI flagged a number of individuals who they believe came to be disruptors or agitators. One is 34-year-old who GBI believe participated in riots and unrest in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s murder, while another is a Florida resident with multiple obstruction and assault charges during riots in Ferguson, Missouri after the police shooting of Michael Brown. At least 10 individuals were bonded out of jail in Atlanta by the same person.
Discussing the charges filed against six APD officers in the excessive force case against two students, Shields said the firing and arrests “has hit morale hard.” Shield said in a leaked memo to officers that she believed the arrests were politically motivated.
“With everything going on, our people can’t step back and process, it’s relentless,” Shields said. “You go home, sleep for a few hours, and then come back to it.”
Shields noted that there are excessive force cases that have been sitting on the district attorney’s desk since 2017 and wondered how the charges against the six officers were decided in 48 hours.
The chief said the firing of the officers was necessary and maybe the charges are, too. “We get it. We messed up. But I wanted to explain why my officers are having such difficulty on these arrests.”
Mayor Bottoms said during the briefing that her administration was trying to organize a meeting Friday or Saturday with the leaders of the protest movement. She said the nighttime curfew, which extends to Monday morning, would stay in place until things stabilized, but it could be rescinded if protests settle down.
Bottoms also announced that she’s forming an advisory council to review police use-of-force policies for possible reforms.
“What we have seen on the streets of our city over the past few days is a byproduct of an inexcusable racial bias that has been ingrained into the fabric of this nation,” Bottoms said. “While an open dialogue on racial injustice is desperately needed, action is needed as well. The establishment of this Advisory Council is designed to ensure that there is meaningful reform in action long after the fires burn out and the smoke clears.”
The advisory council will be composed of community members and partners, none of whom were yet named. Bottoms said she was inspired by a recent call for such reviews issued in a forum held by former President Barack Obama and the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program of his foundation that addresses unequal opportunities for men and boys of color.