Police shootings protest ends in park where black man was found hanging from a treePhoto of the July 7 protest by Steve Eberhardt.
By Keaton Lamle, contributor
Hundreds of supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement filled downtown Atlanta streets in a march that began at Five Points Station around 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 7.
The protesters moved through Midtown and ended up in Piedmont Park, where the body of a young black man was found hanging from a tree early Thursday morning.
The marchers planned to shut down the busy thoroughfare in attempt to draw attention to the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile— both of whom were shot and killed by police earlier this week.
Some at the rally also mentioned the still-unnamed young man found hanging in the Park this morning as a motivating factor for attending, noting the haunting similarities of the grisly scene to 20th century lynchings. Some at the rally and many on social media said they did not trust police department’s insistence that the man’s death looked like a suicide. No autopsy has been performed. Mayor Kasim Reed has referred the case to the FBI, stressing that the situation should not be “pre-judged.”
While the protesters were angry, the atmosphere was peaceful. During the pre-march rally above Underground Atlanta, one speaker urged marchers to, “listen to police officers. If they say, ‘get off the street,’ then get off the street.” A troop of a dozen or more Atlanta police officers followed the march— which, at times, filled nearly a quarter of a mile of Peachtree— forming a moving traffic blockade behind the protesters as stranded motorists raised fists in solidarity or honked out of frustration.
Marchers ran the gamut in terms of demographic. It’s probably a stretch to say that the scene was populated by equal parts young and old, locals and visitors, but the group was diverse. Protesters of different ages, races and backgrounds all said they felt it was their duty to attend.
Liv, a white woman in her twenties, put it this way:
“As a white person, it’s my duty to protect my friends of color, because they’re treated differently by the state.”
T. Smith, a rapper who drove from Alabama to join the protest, also expressed a sense of moral obligation:
“A lot of artists don’t use their voice, so I wanted to use mine and be a part of this, hands-on. People can rap about how they’d help, but are they really out there with the people going through this?”
Feleg, an Atlanta DJ who broadcasts on Streetz 94.5 as Shorty Mack, brought her 14-year old nephew, Zaire, to the rally. She said she found herself increasingly fearful for his life and the life of her own son. She emphasized the need for community action to counteract what the lack of legal consequences many in law enforcement have faced after killing citizens on the job.
“Being silent in the face of injustice is not going to help,” she said. “You’ve got to show solidarity for the families who are grieving… There has to be unity instead of division. Black people are saying, ‘We’re being killed because we’re black,’ and you’ve got white people who are saying, ‘No, you’re not, really.’ You’ve got good police officers afraid to speak out against bad police officers because they don’t want to be the outcast, be fired. It’s very divided. We need to come together with the common goal that people shouldn’t be killed. It only works if everyone who values human life says, ‘this is not okay.’”
Having reached their destination, the string of marchers formed a circle as the sun set in Piedmont Park. Activist Mary Hooks, co-director of Southern Underground and an organizer of Black Lives Matter Atlanta, addressed the crowd. Hooks’ message stressed love and change, arguing that protesters, “Can’t work in oppressive ways and then expect liberation on the other side.”
Hooks went on to say that racial injustice is only one aspect that needs to be addressed in order to build a better society, communicating the need to reform drug laws, end gender discrimination, and stop mass shootings.
The police escort long gone, protesters joined in song one final time as organizers passed contact forms around in attempt to retain the momentum created by the event.
A similar march is scheduled for July 8 at 4 p.m. in Olympic Centennial Park.