Many Buckhead businesses cleaned up from a night of riots and looting on May 30 while police braced for more protests, including one gathering outside the Governor’s Mansion on West Paces Ferry Road.
Protests began downtown on the evening of May 29 in response to the the death of Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd was a black man who died after a white police officer kept a knee on his neck for a lengthy period despite pleas from Floyd and bystanders that the action was killing him. The protests spawned some rioting at CNN Center and Centennial Olympic Park.
The rioting, looting and arson then came to Buckhead. Phipps Plaza mall, “Disco Kroger” and many other businesses were looted or damaged, while Lenox Square mall was walled off by police officers and Georgia National Guard troops.
The Atlanta Police Department said shots were fired at one of its officers who was driving in Buckhead during the looting. The officer was not injured. A total of 71 people were arrested throughout the city, APD said.
“The treatment that they gave Buckhead was an ugly appearance on our image…,” said Sam Massell, a former Atlanta mayor and current president of the Buckhead Coalition, a community nonprofit. But, he added, he and his group would work to “smooth” relations between the police and the community.
Dozens of businesses were damaged, said City Councilmember Howard Shook, whose District 7 includes the malls. “The destruction is so much more widespread than what you see on the news,” he said.
The Buckhead Coalition was assisting some of the smaller businesses — as far from Lenox Square as Peachtree Battle Avenue and Collier Road — with cleanup. Home Depot donated such supplies as trash bags and plywood, he said.
City crews also began cleanups and graffiti removal in Buckhead and other areas, according to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
“What we saw overnight was not a protest, and it was not Atlanta,” said Bottoms in a press release. “We as a people are strongest when we use our voices to heal our city instead of using our hands to tear it down.”
Massell recalled the lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights era in Atlanta as illegal actions that “made the message resonate with the City Council and… got reforms that were long overdue even then.” But, he added, “The difference in this one are the small percentage of those who demonstrated doing the violence, whether against property or persons, which is very disappointing, very embarrassing, very sad. But we shall overcome.”
By the late afternoon of May 30, protesters were gathering again, both downtown and at the Governor’s Mansion.
“Everyone’s on pins and needles,” said Shook, adding he is an “optimist” that the Governor’s Mansion protest will be organized. But, he said, he is concerned the city faces prolonged stress.
“It’s a bad mix,” he said. “…It’s an impossible-to-watch, police-involved killing [and] the onset of a long, hot summer, with a public that’s already worn out and on edge because of this virus, and they’re tired of being shut in and bossed around.”
APD said in a press release that it was working with 20 other agencies to “monitor activity and protect vulnerable business districts and retail centers,” specifically including Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza.
“I’m incredibly proud of our officers for showing professionalism and restraint, allowing protestors to voice their valid concerns,” said Police Chief Erika Shields in the press release. “We were patient. But we will not allow these protests to devolve into the destruction of property or placing the safety or our officers in jeopardy. We will make additional arrests and we are grateful to the assistance we are receiving from our partner agencies.
Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts, a Buckhead resident, said in an email to his constituents that the rioting left him in “shock.”
“While I share the outrage of people across Fulton County and the nation against senseless killing of another unarmed black man, I know from experience that violence is not the path toward change,” Pitts wrote. “The brilliant young minds in our community can surely imagine another way forward that does not harm the people and businesses that make Fulton County great. The violence must stop tonight so we can begin work tomorrow.”
The Atlanta City Council in a joint statement called the rioting a “flashpoint in our city’s history” and “not a reflection of what we are as a city.”
“The ability to protest and organize is a fundamental right and one that can create lasting change,” the council statement said. “There are rightfully shared emotions of grief, anger, and pain following the deaths of George Floyd and other African Americans who unjustly lost their lives because of the actions of law enforcement. While there are clear and deserving reasons for people to protest, damaging property, breaking windows, and setting fires are not a part of Atlanta’s fabric and that behavior cannot be condoned.”
Shook said he eventually wants more information about the role of non-Atlantans as participants in the rioting and looting.
“These protesters aren’t the ones doing the looting,” he said, calling those who did opportunists and criminals. “If you’re not upset by watching what happened to that guy [in Minnesota], you got a problem. I get that.”