ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp has authorized up to 3,000 National Guard troops to be deployed to cities across the state to respond if needed to protests over the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.
Guard soldiers had helped enforce a 9 p.m. curfew Saturday in Atlanta, where violence has marred otherwise peaceful protests since Friday. Kemp said more would be ready Sunday for demonstrations planned in Athens, Savannah and other cities.
“Hopefully we don’t have to,” the Republican governor told WSB-TV late Saturday.
Atlanta police said early Sunday they had arrested 70 people as protesters threw rocks at officers and broke windows in the downtown area. The curfew was imposed after demonstrations Friday night turned violent with people setting fires and smashing windows at businesses and restaurants.
“The protesters need to know we’re going to support their efforts in a peaceful, nonviolent protest,” Kemp said. “The agitators need to know that we’ll be there, like you saw tonight, to take them to jail if they’re destroying lives and property.”
Kemp declared a state of emergency late Friday for Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta. Late Saturday, he expanded that order to include the entire state for a period extending through next weekend.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Sunday she believed the overnight curfew and the National Guard presence helped reduce the amount of violence and property destruction in the city Saturday.
“Last night was not as bad as Friday night,” Bottoms told CBS's “Face The Nation," adding that “many people just decided to heed my advice and stay home.”
Bottoms said Atlanta officials would decide Sunday whether to extend the curfew.
The Atlanta mayor also had harsh words for President Donald Trump after he tweeted Saturday that “Liberal Governors and Mayors must get MUCH tougher” on violent protests or the federal government would intervene, potentially using the military.
“He’s making it worse,” Bottoms said. “This is not about using military force. This is about where we are in America. We are beyond a tipping point in this country. And his rhetoric only inflames that. And he should just sometimes stop talking.”
In Savannah, Mayor Van Johnson said he planned to join a protest scheduled for Sunday afternoon. He told a news conference that Kemp had called to offer support, but Johnson did not mention the possible use of National Guard soldiers.
“I genuinely appreciated his call and his offer of help should we need it,” Johnson said Saturday afternoon.
An Atlanta motorcycle officer was on foot at an intersection when he was struck late Saturday night by someone riding an ATV in downtown Atlanta, said Sgt. John Chafee of Atlanta police. The officer had been directing traffic away from an area where there were protesters.
The ATV driver went past the intersection once and then returned at a “high rate of speed,” Chafee said. The officer suffered “significant injuries to his legs,” but was alert, talking and stable.
Chafee didn’t have the name of the ATV driver, but said the man was taken into custody and will face charges. The driver suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
“It’s a fair question: Was this intentional?” he said. “At this point, that’s something we’re looking into.”
Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who worked for the Minneapolis Police Department, is charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd's death. Floyd died after Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, even after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air.
Arbery was killed Feb. 23 in Brunswick, a Georgia port city south of Savannah, after a white father and son armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-old black man after spotting him running in their neighborhood.
Greg McMichael, 64, and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, were arrested and charged with felony murder May 7 — more than two months after the killing — after cellphone video of Arbery's death leaked online. A neighbor, 50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., has also been charged with felony murder. Greg McMichael told police he thought Arbery was a burglar and that Arbery attacked his son before being shot.