As nationwide protests against racism and police brutality continue to spread in suburban cities, a large group of demonstrators led by local private school students came to Sandy Springs City Hall the afternoon of June 8.

Protesters on Mount Vernon Highway hold up signs to Sandy Springs City Hall and passing motorists June 8. (John Ruch)

Numbering about 50 people by 1 p.m., the group chanted such slogans as “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” Among the signs carried by protesters were “Defund the police,” “Neutrality = oppression” and “We’re all God’s children.”

Protesters raise signs to passing motorists. (John Ruch)

The organizers were Ellie Kurlander, a recent Mount Vernon School graduate, and David Adkins, a rising junior at the school.

Kurlander carried a sign reading, “#End White Silence!” She said she attended both the Sandy Springs private school and local public schools. “I’ve seen firsthand the racial differences and racial divide between the two school systems,” she said.

Protest organizers David Adkins, center left in white shirt and mask, and Ellie Kurlander, holding a sign reading “#End White Silence!” (John Ruch)

Kurlander said she wanted to make a stand for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. “What better place to go besides City Hall, where policies can be changed…?” she said.

Adkins said he also was moved to bring notice to issues of racism. “I’ve kind of felt very guilty that I’ve lived a very privileged life, and I’ve not acknowledged that until now,” he said.

Volunteers staff a voter registration table at the protest. (John Ruch)

The protest was focused on young people and included a voter registration table.

Many passing drivers honked in apparent support. One reached out a sunroof to raise a fist in solidarity.

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About a half-dozen police officers and city Communications Director Sharon Kraun observed the protest from afar.

The exact location of the protest was an issue. The protesters originally intended to demonstrate next to City Hall in the City Springs civic center on its frontage along Roswell Road, the city’s main street. The city said protesters needed a permit, citing safety issues, and required them to move to a less prominent mid-block location on Mount Vernon Highway, across the street from City Hall and fronting on-street parking spaces. However, a group of protesters later moved to Roswell Road at City Springs.

Protesters kneel in a gesture symbolizing opposition to racism and police brutality popularized by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in controversial national anthem protests. (John Ruch)

Kraun said the city issued the permit on short notice rather than the typical 15-day wait — a speed typically required for First Amendment protests responding to immediate events — and that safety from Roswell Road traffic was the consideration in requiring the Mount Vernon Highway location. She said there was no content-based motivation, such as keeping City Hall out of protest photos. “No, you can still get City Hall in the pcitures… But [the location] keeps people out of a busy Roswell Road…,” she said.

Kraun said the protest was one of at least three in the past week along the Roswell Road corridor. At least one other protest was held in Sandy Springs since the nationwide demonstrations and riots began May 26 over the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minnesota as well as many other killings of black people around the nation, including Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.

Several protesters “take a knee” as a symbol against racism and police brutality. (John Ruch)

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul recently called for a citywide dialogue about racism in response to the protests. Kraun said that city is working with a company called Civic Dinners, which hosts diversity-minded gatherings, to conduct a series of virtual events as part of that program.

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John Ruch

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