ATLANTA (CN) — Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of downtown Atlanta Monday to join a march organized by the Georgia NAACP demanding criminal justice and voting reform, following a chaotic primary election and the shooting of another unarmed black man by police.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building on Monday morning to participate in the March on Georgia. They waited to march towards the Georgia Capitol, where lawmakers reconvened for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The Georgia NAACP called for repealing Georgia’s citizens’ arrest and “stand your ground” self-defense statutes, adding a definition of “moral turpitude” in the Georgia Constitution to restore the rights of voters, and opposing Senate Bill 463.
SB 463 would require election officials to add precincts, poll workers, or voting equipment if voters had to wait longer than an hour in line before checking in to vote in the previous election. Critics worry the bill would discourage voter turnout.
Voters in the metro Atlanta area waited hours last week to cast their ballots in the primary election due to malfunctioning voting machines, prompting outrage from officials and voting rights advocates nationwide.
Monday’s march also comes days after Rayshard Brooks, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed after a confrontation with police outside a Wendy’s in southwest Atlanta.
Brooks, 27, was shot twice in the back by law enforcement Friday night as officers attempted to arrest him on suspicion of driving under the influence. Police were called after Brooks fell asleep in the Wendy’s drive-thru.
On Monday, protesters held signs with the words “Justice for Rayshard” above his portrait.
Vivian Rivera, a retiree who joined organizers at the front of the march, held up a sign that read: “Take his keys not his life.”
Rivera says she doesn’t understand how Brooks’ encounter with police “escalated to murder.”
Video from police body cameras and surveillance footage from Wendy’s shows that Brooks calmly spoke with police and cooperated with them for over 45 minutes.
After failing a sobriety test, Brooks grabbed an officer’s taser as he was being handcuffed and appeared to fire the taser at one of the officers while running away.
“When I heard, it just hurt so bad. It hurt,” Rivera said.
Garrett Rolfe, the officer who shot Brooks, has since been fired.
The Wendy’s where Brooks was killed was set on fire by protesters Saturday night and has become a makeshift memorial site. The fallout from the incident culminated with the resignation of Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields on Saturday.
Brooks’ death weighed heavily on the minds of organizers and demonstrators Monday.
Speaking to the crowd gathered outside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Jamal Bryant said, “We’re sick and tired of every week having a different hashtag for innocent black lives.”
“We’re sick and tired that if you fall asleep in the drive-thru at Wendy’s, you’ll end up being killed even if you have no weapon. We’re sick and tired that even if you go to vote, the polling stations don’t work and the people who you vote for forget that you put ‘em in office. We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Bryant said. “We’re sick and tired of having to beg for human decency.”
Wanda Moseley, the senior state coordinator for Black Voters Matter in Georgia, said she was “outraged” by what she witnessed during the primary election and called on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state’s chief elections official, to resign.
Moseley urged demonstrators to tell their representatives to vote no on SB 463.
“It does not offer any resolution to anything that we saw on Tuesday. It doesn’t shorten lines, it doesn’t get more poll workers, it doesn’t fix vote-by-mail. This is the Band-Aid they want to offer us,” she said.
Although there was heavy police presence all along the march route, the protest Monday was peaceful. Demonstrators chanted “No justice, no peace” and “Hands up, don’t shoot” as they made their way down closed-off streets to the area in front of the capitol building.
Throughout the march, organizers were vocal about their intention to keep the pressure on lawmakers.
“This is the next wave of revolution in America,” Bryant said outside the Capitol. “We’re not going to stop until [the governor] gets the message.”