By Beau Evans
Gov. Brian Kemp placed Georgia under a state of emergency Monday afternoon following a pair of fatal shootings near a burned-down Wendy’s in Atlanta that has been a focal point for recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
The emergency order came hours after Kemp sounded a warning that his administration “won’t hesitate to take action” in the wake of the shooting deaths and after protesters damaged the state Department of Public Safety headquarters in Atlanta around 1 a.m. Sunday, according to the Georgia State Patrol.
The order authorizes Georgia National Guard troops to help quell any unruly protests and for state and local law enforcement “to do all things necessary to maintain peace and good order.”
“This measure will allow troops to protect state property and dispatch state law enforcement officers to patrol our streets,” Kemp said in a news release Monday. “Enough with the tough talk. We must protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”
Kemp’s office added the governor could authorize as many as 1,000 National Guard members under the order. The state of emergency is set to run through next Monday (July 13).
Atlanta authorities said 8-year-old Secoriea Turner was shot and killed when a group of armed people opened fire on the car in which she was riding late Saturday night.
The car was attempting to enter a parking lot across the street from the Wendy’s restaurant that the armed group had blocked off south of downtown Atlanta, according to city police.
A 53-year-old man was killed in a triple shooting next to the Wendy’s Sunday night roughly 24 hours after Turner’s death, according to police.
Kemp called the shootings and property damage part of a “recent trend of lawlessness [that] is outrageous and unacceptable.”
“While we stand ready to assist local leaders in restoring peace and maintaining order, we won’t hesitate to take action without them,” Kemp wrote on Twitter Sunday night.
The Wendy’s has been the site of intense protests following the death of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old man who was shot by an Atlanta police officer on June 12 during an altercation outside the restaurant.
The restaurant was burned down amid protests shortly after Brooks’ killing. Since then, the site has been frequented by armed persons who at times have barricaded the property, according to police.
The governor’s comments come amid weeks of protests locally and across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer who kneeled on his neck on May 25.
Last month, Kemp ordered 3,000 Georgia National Guard troops to mobilize for assisting local and state authorities with crowd control during protests in Atlanta and other Georgia cities.
On Sunday night, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also decried the shootings and vandalism, labeling the killing of Turner as a “random wild, wild west shoot ‘em up” that tarnishes the aim of peaceful protesters seeking criminal justice reform.
“We’ve got to stop this,” Bottoms said at a news conference Sunday night. “We are doing each other more harm than any police officer on this force.”
Kemp’s state-of-emergency order levelled criticism at Atlanta officials, saying they had “failed to quell” recent acts of violence and property damage in the city.
His order also notes between 60 and 100 people “armed with rocks, spray paint and fireworks” vandalized the Public Safety headquarters early Sunday and tried to set it on fire.
“Criminals are now victimizing Georgians to inflict chaos, cause fear among residents and thwart law enforcement,” the order says. “This ongoing threat to public safety will not be tolerated.”
Other elected officials also lamented Turner’s death and condemned the presence of armed persons involved in protests at the Wendy’s.
Sen. Nikema Williams, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia, urged an end to the “scourge of gun violence” threatening children.
“We must keep guns out of the hands of bad actors and protect our communities,” said Williams, D-Atlanta.
And U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., touted legislation she introduced last month to withhold federal highway safety funds from state and local governments that move to reduce law enforcement funding.
“The heartbreaking and senseless violence in Atlanta must stop,” said Loeffler.