Streets Calm, for Now, on Sixth Day of Protests in Southeast

(CN) — Protests continued in Charlotte and Atlanta for the sixth consecutive day Wednesday afternoon as demonstrators peacefully gathered to march against police violence and racism in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

In Atlanta, a group of about 100 protestors gathered outside the southern end of Centennial Olympic Park as members of the National Guard watched from inside the public park.

The crowd was energized, chanting “vote” and “hands up, don’t shoot” while waving signs at passing cars that honked to show their support.

Although the protesters showed no sign of aggression, reminders of violent protests earlier in the week surrounded the park. Several nearby restaurants have covered their windows with plywood. Less than a block away, barricades remain in front of CNN headquarters, where protesters smashed windows and vandalized the building Friday evening.

Military vehicles were parked along the street close by.

Natalia Tureta, 21, said she was more worried about violence from police than anything else Wednesday, telling Courthouse News that aggression from authorities at protests earlier in the week “terrified” her.

“I’ve never felt that much fear in my life, ever,” Tureta said.

She was concerned that police might lash out against protesters again.

“Later on tonight, it’s not going to be [calm] like this at all… It’s just so terrifying, the change of attitude [the police] have when people start to get really passionate,” she said. “The energy for us doesn’t change. It just grows bigger. If they’re afraid of a bigger crowd, they need to have ways to deal with it better than taunting us with tear gas and rubber bullets.”

Demonstrators gather near Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park on Wednesday to protest against police violence and racism. (Courthouse News photo/Kayla Goggin)

Footage of Atlanta police officers assaulting two black college students Saturday night sparked outrage around the country this week after it went viral. Six officers were charged Tuesday with using excessive force against 20-year-old Taniya Pilgrim and 22-year-old Messiah Young, who were dragged from their car and shocked with Tasers. Two of the officers have been fired.

Whitlei Neal, a 30-year-old product developer, called the officers’ actions “obscene” but said she thinks Atlanta’s police force “has done very well, compared to other large city police organizations.”

Also outside the park, film industry professionals Mekkah Nycole, Shy Day and Joshua Gilyard had set up a small table to hand out voting information, bail fund fliers, snacks, water and first aid supplies.

Gilyard said after three days of marching in protests, they realized they wanted to expand their activism and help “make sure [people] are going in the right direction after this because there’s a long time before the November general election.”

“We want to make sure people stay informed because the anger is good but we’ve got to make sure that people go to the next step and get educated,” he said. “This is important, but it’s also important for us to show up at the polls.”

Peaceful protesters also began to assemble in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Wednesday afternoon for the sixth day of demonstrations there.

Daytime protests in the Queen City, which garnered thousands of supporters and have been nonviolent, appear much different than those at night.

Things took a divergent turn toward chaos on Tuesday as nightfall brought thick clouds of sulfur and tear gas, creeping around almost every corner of a packed Uptown area.

Protesters demonstrate on the streets of Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday night. (Courthouse News photo/Erika Williams)

The assembly was deemed unlawful Tuesday night, as it had during the past few evenings, reportedly due to a small number of people tossing fireworks and plastic water bottles in the direction of officers.

It is unclear whether those who partook in the reported throwing of projectiles were protesters.

As lines of officers in riot gear appeared around each turn, the question, “where do we go?” — shouted by several panicking protesters — was answered on many occasions that night with pepper bullets and flash bang grenades.

The boarded-up streets of Charlotte are not currently under a curfew, though city leaders say it is being considered after several nights of unrest.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on Tuesday said it is conducting an internal review related to a high-profile incident brought to national light by a local alternative newspaper.

The video, live-streamed by Queen City Nerve, appeared to show hundreds of protesters completely surrounded by officers who fired riot-control agents upon the group, with some fleeing under a gate and into a parking garage to get away.

“We were all just peacefully protesting. Nobody was throwing anything, nothing bad was going down. They were pushing up East 4th Street and they started coming on the sides of us, blocking all of the alleys, and that’s when we saw the riot cops standing in front of us,” Jeremy Johnson of Gastonia told Courthouse News on Tuesday night.

Johnson added, “We were just standing there and all of a sudden some more riot police came right up from behind us. They blocked us in. We were trying to go back. We were all swarming between the buildings trying to find a way to go and that’s when they started hucking tear gas and shooting at us.”

Other protesters who were involved in the incident told Courthouse News that they were “trapped in a box” of officers and gassed for what felt like 30 minutes.

“The deployment of chemical agents in Charlotte needs to end tonight,” Charlotte city councilman Braxton Winston tweeted on Tuesday, with video of the incident included in his post.  

Winston, a councilmember endeared by many local constituents for his history of civil rights advocacy, was arrested during a protest in northwest Charlotte last Friday. He was charged with failure to disperse and was bailed out soon after.

Protesters demonstrate on the streets of Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday night. (Courthouse News photo/Erika Williams)

Congresswoman Alma Adams, who represents North Carolina’s 12th District, said in a statement Wednesday that police in Charlotte and across the country “should immediately and permanently end the use of tear gas.”

“Weapons that are illegal in war should never be used on American soil, especially against our own people,” Adams said.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s internal affairs office says it has received 50 complaints about officers, 49 of which were received on Wednesday.

“I didn’t like what I saw,” CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said Wednesday of the previous night’s events. But “this community should be very proud of the work our officers have been doing over the past few days,” he added, emphasizing that the incident is overshadowing the good.

“Chemical agents give us the opportunity to gain compliance without the use of physical force,” Putney said.

Members of the news media were not spared from the riot-control agents, as many appeared to be caught in the middle of the fire. Officers splattered pepper balls around the feet of a Courthouse News reporter, one of the authors of this article, after she identified herself as a member of the press.

“I wouldn’t come back up here again if I were you,” a bicycle officer who did not identify himself to the reporter said later Tuesday night.

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