Five hundred miles from the epicenter of the Ferguson, Mo. protests and violent demonstrations, metropolitan Atlanta’s political, religious and civic leaders have voiced their disappointment with the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision to exonerate officer Darren Wilson of all charges.
Others expressed disenchantment with the American system of jurisprudence in failing to charge the white officer in the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown on Aug. 9 in the St. Louis suburb.
Several civil rights leaders posted up strong on the steps of the Russell Federal Building in downtown Atlanta. Other activists are planning a protest rally at Underground Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon from 5 to 9 p.m., to represent the four hours that Brown laid dead in the street before his body was finally hauled away.
Most urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully and lawfully in honor of the slain victim’s family’s wishes.
“If you’re going to protest, protest in a peaceful, orderly, non-violent fashion,” said legendary Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who it’s the way he and others did it in the 1960s, “in the way of peace, in the way of love, and non-violence. You want to bring about the beloved community. That’s the way we must do it.”
Lewis’ sentiments were echoed by the religious community leadership in Atlanta.
“Michael Brown deserves better than looting,” said Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist. “Michael Brown deserves better than violence. It was violence that killed him. Not only does Michael Brown deserve better, but we as a community deserve better.”
Other leaders also spoke out:
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed:
This evening, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri has decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown.
This announcement is likely to spark understandable feelings of frustration, not only in Ferguson, but across the country.
However, while many are saddened and angered by the grand jury’s decision, I urge everyone taking part in demonstrations to do so in a peaceful manner. I support the efforts of local leaders to promote non-violent expression by self-policing and elevating the voices of community members. Equally important, I believe we should respect the wishes of Michael Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., that all protests be conducted in a way that honors his son’s memory, rather than distract from it. It is also essential that all local, state, and federal law enforcement officials show proper restraint and respect every citizen’s constitutional right to assemble. Atlanta’s history demonstrates that we can come together and protest in a non-violent and peaceful fashion.
Going forward, I encourage the United States Department of Justice to conduct a complete review of how Michael Brown’s killing has been handled thus far. Both the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened civil rights investigations, and I look forward to the release of their findings.
Finally, let’s not forget what this case is really about. It’s about the deep pain and sorrow that a mother and father have lived through since their son was killed more than three months ago. We must view this case, not just through our own eyes, but through the eyes of parents who lost a child. While this decision does not do justice to Michael Brown and his family, it serves as an opportunity for Atlanta, and the rest of the nation, to engage in a thoughtful conversation on how to build greater trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
John H. Eaves, PhD, Chairman, Fulton County Board of Commissioners:
“Communities all over our nation continue to heal from the unrest following the shooting death of Ferguson, Missouri teen Michael Brown by a police officer in that city. The case heightened how divisive issues of race continue to be. Fulton County and Atlanta can and should remain a symbol of the best among us and places that set examples of the best way to deal with these issues. That is why in the wake of the grand jury’s decision in that city, I urge our residents to remain calm as those who object to that decision make their feelings known in a peaceful manner. As the cradle of the civil rights movement, Atlanta has been the scene of many peaceful protests as our residents have made their feelings known on so many important societal issues. My hope is that the decision made in Missouri is met with resolve on the part of its residents, those in metro Atlanta and in so many other cities all over our nation.”
Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04):
“I am shocked, and along with many others, outraged by the process of the grand jury consideration of the killing of Michael Brown, and the decision reached by the grand jury to not indict this officer. These are trying times, and people have a right to protest what we see as an injustice. Protests should be expected, but I urge protesters to remain peaceful. Death, personal injury or property destruction will not right the injustice, nor will it bring Michael Brown back to life. So let’s be smart, and let’s handle this through the strategy of non-violence. I also urge law enforcement to exercise restraint and to not meet peaceful protesters with a militarized show of force like what we saw in August. Such a display will only inflame protesters and provoke a violent response.”