On June 13, protests assembled across Atlanta in response to the police killing of Rayshard Brooks and in solidarity with all victims of racism and police violence. The night before, community members and local activists had mobilized immediately after learning that another Black man, Brooks, had been killed by the police outside of a Wendy’s restaurant near Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood.
Brooks was shot dead by Garrett Rolfe of the Atlanta Police Department after what ensued when police were called to the scene late Friday night because Brooks had fallen asleep in his car while parked in the drive-thru line. As onlookers responded with outrage, news of Brooks’ murder quickly spread, and within an hour a group of protesters had gathered at the Wendy’s despite it being past midnight.
Body cam footage shows that Brooks was fully cooperative when officers arrived. The situation only escalated about half an hour later when the officers, after refusing to allow him to walk to his sister’s house, attempted to arrest Brooks for failing a field sobriety test. A struggle ensued, with the two responding officers attempting to apprehend Brooks by wrestling him to the ground and tasing him into submission. Instead, Brooks was able to grab one of the officers’ tasers, break free of their grip, and flee across the parking lot. After failing to successfully tase Brooks, Officer Rolfe then responded by discharging his weapon, striking Brooks twice in the back, eventually killing him.
Rolfe was terminated shortly following the incident, and on June 17, Distract Attorney Paul Howard announced charges against him and the accompanying officer, including a felony murder charge against Rolfe. While this prosecution is certainly a victory, absent any systematic change to accompany it, racist violence and police terror are bound to continue.
Brooks’ murder and the outpouring of anger it provoked come amidst a massive nationwide, and even worldwide, rebellion against racism and police brutality. While this rebellion has gained international recognition and produced definite results, the murder of Brooks in spite of it shows that the movement must continue to mobilize in the streets, organize, and advance its objectives of systemic change. Protesters have showed every intention of doing so.
Demonstrations took place in multiple locations across Atlanta, including downtown where nearly 1,000 protestors gathered outside of Centennial Park and the Capitol Building. A contingent of PSL activists then led several hundred of these protesters on an over-three-mile march across the city, eventually converging on the Wendy’s where Brooks was killed, joining several hundred more protesters already there. On the way, the march stopped and agitated outside the Atlanta City Detention Center and the Juvenile Court-Detention Center to show solidarity with incarcerated youth, immigrants, women, and other poor and working-class peoples. PSL activists gave solidarity statements and led chants demanding the shutting down of oppressive systems like racist policing, mass incarceration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as targeting capitalism and homelessness.
As the protest outside of Wendy’s and the adjacent intersection grew, so did the police presence. Droves of cops formed a partial perimeter around the intersection and blocked off the ramp to the Interstate, which was lined with patrol cars, armored SWAT vehicles, and “corrections” buses to haul arrested protesters off to jail.
Protesters faced off with the cops throughout the day, holding signs and tirelessly chanting for justice. Local PSL activist Monica Johnson commented on the futility of the cops’ public relations tactics, noting: “APD has a practice of sending Black officers to play ‘good cop’ whenever people are protesting. On Saturday, it had no effect on the righteous anger of the people. As soon as the police arrived, they were berated for showing up to stand against a demonstration of militant love and solidarity with our people. All day, people asked the cops, ‘who do you protect, who do you serve?’ and we knew the answer was the ruling class.”
The events remained peaceful for most of the evening, with protesters occupying the intersection and police lined up in strategic, well-armed formations around the perimeter. Later in the evening, several skirmishes between protesters and police erupted. Soon thereafter several hundred protesters took the Interstate, circumventing the police blockade of the ramp by advancing up a grassy hill and over the wall on the other side.
The occupation of the Interstate lasted over an hour, with the crowd thinning out as police vehicles shut down the other side and closed in on protesters from behind. Meanwhile, the situation also escalated outside of the Wendy’s, which by the end of the night had been set on fire.
The rebellion on June 13 and the protests that followed indicate that Atlanta will not stand for the systemic racism and propensity to murder that is so deeply embedded in American policing. While local communities and activists continue to raise their voices against racism and police terror in conjunction with the nationwide uprising, city officials have scrambled to quell public outrage. APD and its chief, Erika Shields, had already been coming under heavy criticism for their brutal repression of peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Brooks’ murder appears to have been the last straw for Shields, who stepped down as chief on June 13, presumably under pressure from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Demands of activists are growing
With protests in Atlanta entering the national spotlight, the demands of activists are growing. Pressure now centers on Mayor Bottoms to enact meaningful change. For liberal pundits and other outside observers, Bottoms has garnered an ostensibly progressive image, with some even heaping praise on her handling of the protests.
For the working class and activists in the struggle, however, this progressive image is largely a façade. While her press conferences and public relations efforts may be palpable to some, Bottoms has done little to advance the material conditions of Atlanta’s poor and oppressed communities. In fact, she has been notably complicit in facilitating the city’s ongoing and escalating gentrification and has pushed for increases in the Police Department’s budget every year since her election in 2018. Her latest proposal, which she stands by despite ongoing rebellions against police brutality, calls for a $13.6 million increase in APD’s budget, which would bring the total increase during her tenure to $31 million if it passes. This is all in spite of the $40 million in spending cuts she has proposed to address the revenue hole resulting from the “economic shock” of COVID-19.
While Bottoms has used progressive and reformist rhetoric and responded promptly to Brooks’ murder by seeking the termination of Rolfe, she has clearly failed to live up to any promises of systemic change. The more that progressive capitalist and reformist politicians like Mayor Bottoms fail to deliver upon this goal, the clearer it becomes that only socialism can offer a genuine solution to this decrepit system and that revolution is the way to achieve it. The ongoing protests in Atlanta plainly indicate that the masses are not satisfied with what little justice has been delivered, and that they will continue to organize, agitate and mobilize in the streets until genuine justice and transformative change are realized.