ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency on Monday and authorized the activation of up to 1,000 Guard troops after a weekend of gun violence in Atlanta left five people dead, including an 8-year-old girl.
Kemp’s office said troops will provide support at sites such as the Capitol, governor’s mansion and the state Department of Public Safety Headquarters — which was damaged by a group early Sunday — freeing up state law enforcement resources to patrol other areas of the city.
Some National Guard troops guarded those sites Monday night, but there was no visible presence of them by mid-morning Tuesday.
Kemp’s order says the Guard troops “shall have the same powers of arrest and apprehension as do law enforcement officers to be exercised with caution and only if the circumstances demand the exercise of such powers to protect the safety of persons or property.”
“Peaceful protests were hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda. Now, innocent Georgians are being targeted, shot, and left for dead,” the Republican governor said.
But Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Kemp issued his order without asking if the city needed extra help. The city had already been coordinating with the Georgia State Patrol, and “at no time was it mentioned that anyone felt there was a need for the National Guard to come in,” she said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Maj. Gen. Tom Carden, who oversees the Georgia National Guard, said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that troops stood guard at the three sites around Atlanta Monday night and will be out again Tuesday night. He said the first night was peaceful.
Carden declined to say how many troops were deployed, citing safety concerns.
Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, called Kemp’s decision reckless. Critics of such mobilizations have said that deploying military troops on otherwise calm city streets could provoke more violence.
“His choice to deploy National Guard troops for today’s selfish purpose is outrageous and will endanger lives,” she said in a statement.
But Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia said Tuesday he agreed with the governor’s decision, and said lawless areas must not be allowed to exist in Atlanta or any other American city.
“After what we saw this past weekend, I think it was the right move,” Collins said in an interview Tuesday.
Law enforcement in the U.S. is decentralized by design because the founding fathers believed very strongly in local control and authority, said Dean Dabney, who chairs the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University. For that reason, he said, it’s unusual to see the governor send in the National Guard without a request from local authorities.
“My read of the situation is it appears as though the governor has decided, ‘If you can’t get control of your situation, I will,’” Dabney said.
Atlanta has a tradition of being very tolerant toward protests, generally sending in regular uniformed officers rather than ones outfitted in tactical gear to avoid ratcheting up tension, Dabney said. But sending in National Guard troops in military gear could have a very different effect.
“The National Guard is not going to be perceived as non-threatening, and so I think that it would probably increase tensions,” Dabney said
Secoriea Turner was riding in a car with her mother and another adult Saturday night near a Wendy’s that was burned after a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, was shot by a white police officer in the restaurant parking lot last month. When the car Secoriea was in tried to enter a parking lot, they were confronted by “a group of armed individuals” blocking the entrance, police said. The girl’s mother, Charmaine Turner, said shots were fired and Secoriea was hit before they could make a U-turn.
Saturday night’s fatal shooting of Secoriea prompted a $10,000 reward for information as authorities continue to search for at least two people who opened fire on the car she was riding in.
The fast food outlet was burned the night after Brooks’ death, and the site had become a focus of frequent demonstrations against police brutality. Atlanta police helped sanitation crews clear the area Monday.
Secoriea was killed during a particularly violent weekend in Atlanta. Over the holiday period from Friday through Sunday, 31 people were shot in 11 different incidents, Atlanta police said.
When asked about the surge in violence, the mayor said she thinks people are anxious and frustrated about the coronavirus pandemic and high-profile cases of police brutality.
“I think it’s just a perfect storm of distress in America,” said Bottoms, who learned Monday that she, her husband and one of their four children have tested positive for COVID-19.