Looters and vandals hit Buckhead’s luxury Phipps Plaza mall and other local businesses late on May 29 and early May 30 as a downtown protest about the death of George Floyd produced rioting. Police barricaded Lenox Square, Buckhead’s most famous luxury mall, as well as rioting continued downtown.

Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency enabling Fulton County to activate up to 500 Georgia National Guard troops “to protect people & property in Atlanta.” The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office said its entire law enforcement division was deployed to Lenox Square.

The Phipps Plaza mall as seen in a Google Maps image.

The Atlanta protests and riots were similar to those occurring nationwide in the wake of 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 officer is now charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

In Buckhead, vandals and rioters could be seen on TV broadcasts and social media looting Phipps Plaza at 3500 Peachtree Road and smashing into the Target store at Lenox Marketplace across the street. A massive police presence cordoned off Lenox Square.

A smashed-out window in a fire truck that was responding early on May 30 to a fire at Del Frisco’s Grille in Buckhead during rioting. The image is from a video posted to social media by the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department.

Those were the same locations targeted the previous day by a social media calling for looting, which did not happen at the time. The looting call appeared to be playing off looting occurring in Minneapolis, where a Target store figured prominently in news coverage.

Other local businesses were damaged as well. The Del Frisco’s Grille restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria hotel complex on Peachtree Road briefly burned, according to the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, which reported that its fire trucks were damaged by rioters.

Phipps Plaza is undergoing a major expansion involving an office tower, a hotel and a restaurant whose investors include legendary movie actor Robert De Niro.

Buckhead in general, and Lenox Square in particular, have been the scene of previous protests related to race and social class. That is partly because of the neighborhood’s wealthy and conservative demographics, the Governor’s Mansion being located there, and Peachtree Road mall’s nationally known stature.

Protesters with the Black Lives Matter movement block the main Peachtree Road entrance to Lenox Square mall in a 2016 demonstration. (File)

In 2016, there were three separate protests in Buckhead, all involving Lenox Square, that were part of the Black Lives Matter movement sparked by other police killings of black people. The largest ended in a late-night protest at the Governor’s Mansion, where then Mayor Kasim Reed and then Police Chief George Turner met with organizers inside a police truck. Some of those protests involved calls to boycott the malls.

Today, the malls are attempting comebacks from coronavirus pandemic closures.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.