Atlanta mayor praises police professionalism ahead of second night of planned demonstrations

Mayor urges peaceful protest ahead of second night of planned demonstrations against police brutality.

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A few hours ahead of a second night of planned demonstrations in Atlanta and other cities spurred by the police shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and in the wake of the killing of five  police officers in Dallas, plus new details on a grim death in Piedmont Park, Mayor Kasim Reed praised Atlanta police and emphasized the public’s right to protest.

But Reed also urged folks not to block the freeway again and not to repeat untruths on social media.

A march from the Civic Center to Piedmont Park on Thursday night was a special occasion and well done, by all reports, said Reed, at a public safety briefing at police headquarters downtown on Friday afternoon.

On Thursday evening, as many as 1,500 people marched in Atlanta against racism and police brutality.

But a discovery hours before that added to the tension in Atlanta over the deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota: a young black man was found hanging from a tree in Piedmont Park, an apparent suicide vicitm.

The mayor and police said they have found no evidence that suggests foul play, though they have asked the FBI to take over the investigation and the Fulton County Medical Examiner is still completing its work, said Reed.

The footprints of the young man were found on a trashcan, according to police. Police also said rope similar to the rope that killed the young man was found in his book bag.

The young man’s name has not been released.

Reed emphasized there is no evidence to support internet rumors that the Ku Klux Klan was in the Park or passing out flyers around the time of the man’s death.

“We have reviewed our video cameras, we have spoken to a number of individuals and we have not found any evidence that the KKK was in Piedmont Park distributing materials,” said Reed.

He asked people on social media “to be honest, and accurate and care about what you’re putting out.”

Soon after Reed and police finished the briefing, folks on social media were already making posts about heading to Centennial Park for a second night of demonstrations.

“I think that the Atlanta Police Department and our partners at the Georgia State Patrol did an exceptional job in terms of being restrained and disciplined while allowing individuals to express the frustration that many people are feeling right now,” the mayor said of Thursday’s activity.

Reed, as he’s done during earlier protests, emphasized the First Amendment rights of protestors. But he also returned several times to praising Atlanta police for taking on what can be a dangerous job, when they are sometimes even outgunned.

“To the young folks out there who have been on social media, I’m a black man too. I know what it is to be a black man. But it doesn’t mean that you take your frustrations out by harming other people. It does mean it is perfectly fine to make a demand for fairness and equal treatment of black citizens who are being disproportionately impacted in a particular manner that relates to the likelihood of a black person dying in an interaction with law enforcement,” said Reed. 

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner, also at the briefing, wore a black band over his badge, a common sign of respect for officers killed on duty.

“In my 35 years of policing, I don’t believe we’ve ever been in a place like this,” said Turner. He said his heart goes out to the folks in Dallas struggling with deaths and injuries there.

“For the last few years, the actions of a few offices simply do not define more than 850,000 law enforcement sworn officers throughout our country,” said Turner.

He said officers and the public need to communicate more with each other.

Turner said the ambush that happened in Dallas could have happened in Atlanta.

He said he is thankful for “a sense of reason” in Atlanta.

He emphasized that people have the right to protest peacefully in Atlanta but if protestors choose not to be peaceful, police are prepared to deal with any acts of violence. 

Reed said officers want bad apples out of their profession.  Officers “don’t want to be smeared and have to walk around in fear because someone’s lashing out about something that happened in Louisiana or something that happened in Minnesota,” said the mayor. 

He gave credit to law enforcement for professionalism overall. In 2015, Reed said, Atlanta police fired their guns a total of nine times over 1.5 million public encounters.

pdate: The “nine” actually referred to guns fired in officer-involved shootings, according to APD. So in 2015, city fired their weapons nine times that resulted in someone getting injured or killed.