by Andrea WatsonATLANTA, GA — The same day that celebrities and civil rights activists gathered to remember George Floyd — the African American man who died last week in police custody — elected officials joined Atlanta protesters and several groups for a peaceful Black Lives Matter march. Thursday’s event decrying police brutality toward African Americans kicked off at the King Center with a news conference. Councilman Antonio Brown, District 3, said when he was approached by a resident to help organize this event, he couldn’t say no.”This message is bigger than the elected officials,” Brown said. “This message is bigger than our government. This message is bigger than ourselves. This message is about justice.”More than a thousand people from diverse backgrounds attended.
“If you look around, there are people standing here today from all cultures, all backgrounds, all environments and conditions, because we are standing together as one,” Brown said. “One united people fighting against the injustices in this city, in this state and in this country. And that’s an important message.”
Brown was joined by Georgia Democratic State Rep. Park Cannon, Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall, Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, and others.
Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a special guest.
U.S. Senate candidate and Ebenezer Baptist Church senior pastor the Rev. Raphael Warnock said the focus is on police brutality, but also reminded the crowd of America’s long racial history, systemic racism and multifaceted issues, such as the industrial prison complex.
“The United States of America, the land of the free, is the incarceration capital of the world,” Warnock said. “Nobody comes close. We warehouse 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Any time you build a monstrosity of a carceral state, a prison industrial complex that size, it’s got to eat and this system eats brown and black bodies.”
The fight for justice must continue, he said.
A memorial service was held Thursday in Minneapolis to honor the life of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minneapolis while in police custody. In honor of him, Atlanta protesters organized what they described as an “artistic and peaceful” march. They requested that people come in their “Sunday best” attire.
Some were dressed in all black, as if at a funeral. Others came out in full fashion with bright color suits, dresses, hats and more.
More than 1,000 protesters marched peacefully from the King Center to the Capitol building. As they marched down Washington Street, people were reminded to vote. The crowd later made its way down Mitchell St. where they chanted “Take our power back and turn the ballot black!” Some shouted, “When we vote, we win!”
Different people led the group in songs. The elected officials marched at the front of the line, arms at times, linked to demonstrate unity.
As the protesters continued to march, city workers, small businesses and others came to the sidewalks to watch or kneel.
Simona Weik, who identifies as a white woman, came alone. Her friends weren’t able to join her.
She immigrated from Romania and said she believes that as a non-black person, there are many ways that she and others can support African Americans in the fight for justice.
“First thing is, we have to check ourselves because I think so many people say, ‘I’m not a racist,’ but I think the first thing is realizing you can’t be neutral.
“Racism has been part of the air we breathe and part of the institutions that we support. Look at your own life and places where you are supporting systems of power.”
She said that some white people use the “I’m not a racist” line, especially if they have black friends. She admitted to using it in the past, and believing it herself, until she recognized her privilege as a white woman.
“I think that to be truly anti-racist, is to look at the larger systems that are in power and to pay attention to how you’re benefiting from them and to begin to make changes,” Weik said. “Even something as simple as, ‘Who am I giving my money to? Who am I voting for?'”
When she learned about the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, Weik said she was “heartbroken, disgusted, traumatized.” She’s also a mother.
“I keep thinking, what would it feel like for me to know that every time my daughter got in the car, or every time my daughter just walked down the street, she could be in danger, but she’s not because she’s white.
“I’m just trying in all honesty to imagine what that kind of trauma must be like,” she said. “I can’t say I fully understand because I don’t, but I am heartbroken and it’s got to stop. It has to stop and that’s why I’m here. Black lives matter.”
Also, during the march, an organizer threatened to have Je’ Wesley Day, a journalist, arrested and removed if he didn’t leave. He had taken off his shirt for Commissioner Hall to use for her knees when protesters kneeled during a moment of silence. The organizer didn’t let him explain and instead interrupted his video of the protest.
‘YOUR VOTE COUNTS’
Commissioner Natalie Hall urged people to get out to the polls on Tuesday.
“The police took an oath to serve and protect us,” she said, “but now we need people to help us protect ourselves from the police. So you need to vote for those public officials who are going to write the laws and vote on those actions that protect you and your family.”
She’s encouraging voters to push for two bills – HB426 for hate crimes and HB636 for excessive force.
The Metro Atlanta Uprising Task Force was also promoted. It’s a new city task force that will create a public database to track police brutality in metro Atlanta. A town hall is being planned and more information will be released at a later date.
Brown said it’s for residents, advocates, organizers to have their voices heard. The Atlanta police, elected officials, and the governor’s office will work together to create solutions.
“This is a revolution. We have an opportunity to influence history, where will you be in this fight when history is told?” wrote one on the organizers on Instagram.
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