Gov. Brian Kemp Monday authorized the deployment of as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to protect state buildings after a violent weekend in Atlanta left an 8-year-old girl dead and the Georgia State Patrol’s headquarters damaged.
Kemp’s executive order deploying troops is the second one since protests in Atlanta followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, the first time also following a law enforcement response from city officials that couldn’t stop demonstrations from turning destructive.
The troops are set to guard the state Capitol, where protesters called for the toppling of a prominent Confederate monument, the governor’s mansion where peaceful protesters demonstrated along West Paces Ferry Road and the vandalized Department of Public Safety building on United Avenue.
“Peaceful protests were hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda. Now, innocent Georgians are being targeted, shot, and left for dead,” Kemp said. “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.”
The executive order also sends a message to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that a stronger response is needed to quell the violence in the city as well as free up resources for local law enforcement.
Bottoms told Good Morning America today that she did not agree with Kemp’s decision. “The irony of that is that I asked Gov. Kemp to allow us to mandate masks in Atlanta and he said no but he has called in the National Guard without asking if we needed the National Guard,” she said.
The mayor held a press conference Sunday night to decry the bloodshed over the holiday weekend when 31 people were shot in Atlanta, including 8-year-old Secoriea Turner and four others who died.
“You shot and killed a baby,” Bottoms said Sunday night. “And it wasn’t one shooter. There were at least two shooters. An 8-year-old baby. And you want people to take us seriously. And you don’t want us to lose this movement, then we can’t lose each other in this.”
The 8-year-old was shot near the Wendy’s where Atlanta police shot Rayshard Brooks last month, sparking a new wave of demonstrations against police brutality and calls for social justice.
“Enough is enough,” Bottoms said. “Enough is enough.”
But Kemp suggested that the city’s approach to separating peaceful protesters from people bent on violence isn’t working.
The protests against police brutality, voter suppression and inequality spread across the nation and world in recent months following the killings of African Americans. In addition to Brooks in Atlanta and Floyd in Minneapolis, the names and images of Brunswick’s Ahmaud Arbery and Louisville’s Breonna Taylor are common on signs carried by protesters.
A heavy law enforcement presence surrounded the state Capitol Monday. Now relatively quiet, it was the destination for several large protest marches in June as the 2020 state legislative session wound down.
The Georgia NAACP swiftly criticized Kemp’s decision to activate the troops, calling it a dangerous precedent.
“The violence over this past weekend was both enraging and unacceptable,” the state NAACP said in a tweet. “However, there are very serious legal and ethical concerns about this #StateOfEmergency.”
State Sen. Nikema Williams, chair of the state Democratic party, said while the violence needs to be stopped, deploying military force is overreacting.
The outbreak of violence and vandalism was condemned by many Georgia politicians, including Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
”I’m furious that elected officials with a radical agenda have decided to appease violent actors instead of protecting the public, ” she said. ”And I’m furious that these ‘leaders’ refuse to support law enforcement at a time when they need it most.”