On Friday, thousands gathered in downtown Atlanta to protest the recent violent deaths of three black people at the hands of police and civilians in three different American cities.
After peacefully marching for a few hours, chaos broke out at the CNN Center, with some from the crowd vandalizing the iconic sign and others breaking windows at the media outlet’s Atlanta headquarters.
Around 9 p.m., Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms held a press conference urging protesters to go home and avoid further destruction to the city. She was joined by rappers Killer Mike and T.I., and activists Bernice King and Joe Beasley.
Read the full remarks below. You can see video of the press conference here.
*Warning: Transcript contains explicit language*
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
Let me just speak to what’s happening here today. I am a mother. I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old. And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt. And on yesterday when I heard there were rumors ab(out violent protests) in Atlanta, I did what a mother would do. I called my son, and I said, “Where are you?” I said, “I cannot protect you, and black boys shouldn’t be out today.” So you’re not going to out-concern me and out-care me about where we are in America. I wear this each and every day. And I pray over my children each and every day.
So what I see happening on the streets of Atlanta is not Atlanta. This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is chaos. A protest has purpose. When Dr. King was assassinated, we didn’t do this to our city. So if you love this city, this city that has had a legacy of black mayors and black police chiefs, and people who care about this city, where more than 50% of the business owners in metro Atlanta are minority business owners. If you care about this city, then go home and pray that somebody like Reverend Beasley will come and talk to you and give you some instructions on what a protest should look like. And how you effectuate change in America.
This police chief [Erika Shields, Chief of the Atlanta Police Department] made a video yesterday [Thursday] – pull it up on YouTube – where she said she was appalled to watch the murder of George Floyd. This woman did that. You’re not honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. You’re not protesting anything running out with brown liquor in your hands, breaking windows in the city. T.I. and Killer Mike own half the Westside. So when you burn down this city, you’re burning down our community.
If you want change in America, go and register to vote. Show up at the polls on June 9th [Georgia primary election day]. Show up in November. That is the change we live in this country. You are disgracing our city you are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country.
We are better than this. We’re better than this as a city. We are better than this as a country. Go. Home. Go home! And the same way I couldn’t protect my son on yesterday. I cannot protect you out in those streets. You’re throwing knives at our police officers. You are burning cars. You have defaced the CNN building. Ted Turner started CNN in Atlanta 40 years ago because he believed in who we are as a city. There was a black reporter who was arrested on camera this morning who worked for CNN. They are telling our stories, and you are disgracing their building.
This is not the legacy of civil rights in America. This is chaos, and we’re buying into it. This won’t change anything. We’re no longer talking about the murder of an innocent man. We’re talking about how you’re burning police cars on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Go home.
I’ve already said what I had to say. Atlanta is the place where people like me – Killer Mike, other artists, creatives, other people who come from our culture and other people who rise up out of the wreckage of the struggle – that we all experienced just by being born a certain color in this country. But Atlanta is a place where we can set an example of prosperity and we’ve done it for generations. People like Dr. King, Maynard Jackson. Ambassador (Andrew) Young have paved the way for us. And when everything else goes away, when you don’t get treated right in New York, you don’t get treated right in L.A., you can’t get treated right in Detroit, when you don’t get treated right in St. Louis, when you don’t get treated right in Alabama, Atlanta has been here for us. This city don’t deserve it. I understand that a lot of others do. But we can’t do this here. This is Wakanda, it’s sacred, it must be protected.
I’m the son of an Atlanta city police officer. My cousin is an Atlanta city police officer and my other cousin is an East Point police officer, and I got a lot of love and respect for police officers down to the original eight police officers in Atlanta, that even after becoming police had to dress in a YMCA because white officers didn’t want to get dressed with n*****s. And here we are, 80 years later.
I watched a white officer assassinate a black man. And I know that tore your heart out. And I know it’s crippling. And I have nothing positive to say in this moment. Because I don’t want to be here. But I’m responsible to be here, because it wasn’t just Dr. King, and people dressed nicely, who marched and protested to progress this city and so many other cities. It was people like my grandmother. People like my aunt and uncles who were members SCLC and NAACP. And in particular, Reverend James Orange, Mrs. Alice Johnson and Reverend [Albert E.] Love, who we just lost last year.
So I’m duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house, so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization. And now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize. It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth. It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable, chiefs and deputy chiefs. Atlanta’s not perfect, but we’re a lot better than we ever were. And we’re a lot better than cities are.
I’m mad as hell. I woke up wanting to see the world burn down yesterday, but I’m tired of seeing black men die. He [former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin] casually put his knee on a human being’s neck for nine minutes as he [George Floyd] died like a zebra in the clutch of a lion’s jaw. And we watch it like murder porn, over and over again. So that’s why children are burning to the ground. They don’t know what else to do. And it is the responsibility of us to make this better. Right now. We don’t want to see one officer charged, we want to see four officers prosecuted and sentenced. We don’t want to see Targets burn. We want to see the system, that sets up for systemic racism, burnt to the ground.
And as I sit here in Georgia, home of Stephens Georgia [Alexander Hamilton Stephens], former vice president of the Confederacy. White man said that law – fundamental law – stated that whites were naturally the superior race. And the Confederacy was built on a cornerstone. It’s called the Cornerstone Speech, look it up. The Cornerstone Speech that blacks would always be subordinate. That officer [Derek Chauvin] believed that speech, because he killed that man [George Floyd] like an animal. In this city, officers have done horrendous things and they have been prosecuted. The city’s cut different. In this city, you can find over 50 restaurants owned by black women. I didn’t say minority, and I didn’t say women of color. So after you burn down your own home, what do you have left but char and ash?
CNN? Ted did a great thing. I love CNN. I love Cartoon Network. But I’d like to say to CNN right now: karma’s a mother. Stop feeding fear and anger every day. Stop making people feel so fearful. Give them hope. I’m glad they only took out a sign and defaced the building and they’re not killing human beings like that policeman did. I’m glad that they only destroyed some brick and mortar and they didn’t rip a father from a son. They didn’t rip a son from a mother. Like the policeman did.
When a man yells for his mother in duress and pain and she’s dead, he’s essentially yelling, “Please God, don’t let it happen to me.” And we watched that. So my question for us on the other side of this camera is, “After it burns, will we be left with char, or will we rise like a phoenix out of the ashes that Atlanta has always done? Will we use this as a moment to say that we will not do what other cities have done and, in fact, we will get better than we’ve been?” We got good enough to destroy cash bonds. You don’t have to worry about going to jail for some period. We got smart enough to decriminalize marijuana. How smart are we going to be in the next 15 or 20 years to keep us ahead of this curve? So much like when South Africa suffered apartheid, you had Andy [Young] and other politicians that could make sure that Atlanta said, “Coca Cola, we love you. But if you don’t pull out of South Africa, we’re gonna leave. We’re not going to drink Coca Cola anymore.” And Coca Cola jumped on their side, and apartheid ended.
So we have an opportunity now. Because I’m mad, I don’t have any device. But what I can tell you is that you sit in your homes tonight. Instead of burning your home to the ground, you will have time to properly plot, plan, strategize and organize and mobilize an effective way. And two of the most effective ways is first taking your butt to the computer and making sure you fill out the Census so that people know who you are where you are. The next thing is making sure you exercise your political bully power and going to local elections and beating up the politicians that you don’t like. You got a prosecutor who sent your poppa to jail and you know it was bullshit? Put a new prosecutor in there. Now’s your election to do it. You want a different senator that’s more progressive that puts marijuana through? Now’s the time to do that. But it is not time to burn down your home.
I love and I respect you. I hate I don’t have more to say. I hate I can’t fix it in a snap. I hate Atlanta’s not perfect for as good as we are. But we have to be better than this moment. We have to be better than burning down our own homes. Because if we lose Atlanta, what else we got? We lose an ability to plot, to plan, to strategize, to organize, and to properly mobilize. I want you to go home. I want you to talk to your friends. I want you guys to come up with real solutions. I would like for the Atlanta City Police Department to bring back the Community Review Board. When the Alice Johnson was formerly under Chief [George] Turner. We need a review board here because we need to get ahead before an officer does stupid shit. We need to get ahead. That’s my recommendation to my mayor and my chief. Let’s get a review board. Let’s get ahead of it, and let’s give them power. We don’t need an officer that makes a mistake once, twice, three times and finally he kills a boy on national TV and the next thing you know the country is burning down. We don’t need a dumbass president repeating what segregationists said: “If you start looting, we start shooting.” But the problem is some officers are black, and some people are going to shoot back. And that’s not good for our community either.
I love and respect you all. I hope that we find a way out of it because I don’t have the answers. But I do know we must plot, we must plan, we must strategize, organize and mobilize. Thank you for allowing me the time to speak. I’d like to appreciate our chief of what she said on YouTube. I thought it was very bold to do. I like to appreciate our mayor for talking to us like a black momma and telling us to take our asses home. And I’d like to thank my friend [T.I.} for convincing me to come here. Now I defer to Joe Beasley because he knows a hell of a lot more than we do. Thank you all.
Well, thank you very much. I guess I’m one of the fortunate ones that grew up here in metro Atlanta 83 years ago. So I’ve really seen real change. And I appreciate Mayor Bottoms for asking me to come and stand with the group because the change is here.
I remember very well when we couldn’t even venture into this building. But now the mayor is the mayor of this city. I think we’ve got a great chief here. And I think the word from the mayor is to go home. Because when you’re in a crowd, the adrenaline’s pumping. And you didn’t really mean to get in trouble when you came out. But in fact, when you’re following a crowd, you know, whatever the crowd does you’re with, you will be a part of it. And so I would urge you to stay calm. The nation is changing, and I want you to be a part of the change and not be a statistic. Thank you.
Reverend Dr. Bernice King
Good evening, everybody. And I want to thank the mayor for calling us together. This is a tough moment. And if I might take one liberty to just say, I’ve obviously been in the place of the daughter of George. A six-year-old left without a daddy, who was killed senselessly, as my father was assassinated senselessly. It sent me on a journey of anger. And I fought that demon a long time. This is a moment where people are feeling a lot of stuff right now, and are fed up.
As I stand in this moment, and I look at my journey, I have to make an appeal to my brothers and sisters. Because I realized that the only way to get constructive change is through nonviolent means. You know, a lot of people have been using my father’s words. Sometimes I get a little upset when people do that and co-opt those words and take them out of context. But I realize that he gave his life to this nation. He was a son of this state and of this city, born on the soils of this city on Auburn Avenue.
But he said to us, “Riots are the language of the unheard.” And the part we often miss when people use it is the part about the “unheard.” This is a time when we all have to listen. We have to listen to the cries that are coming out of the hearts and the souls of my young brothers and sisters and all of the others that are in the streets of America right now, and in our city. But if there’s anything I can say to them as they cry out, to look at these changes, because the changes have to happen, we can’t go back to yesterday. We can’t keep doing things like we’ve been doing it. In this nation, we’ve got to deal with systemic racism and white supremacy once and for all. But the only pathway I know to do this is through nonviolent means. It is a proven method. It did not fail my father. As many people who think that it failed him, it did not fail him. Because one thing about it is when you really understand it and really practice it, it brings about the results.
So right now it’s about, “What is the end goal?” The end goal is we want change, and we want it now. But change never comes through violence, it is not a solution. Violence, in fact, creates more problems. It is not a solution. Nonviolent way is the way, because the means and the ends have to be consistent. We will never get to the end of justice and equity and true peace – which is not merely the absence of tension, but the presence of justice – unless we do it through nonviolent means.
And so I’m just speaking from my heart now in saying I feel you. Trust me, I feel you. I’ve been close to the edge this time. But I can’t go back to all that I felt inside and the rage that was inside that wanted me to destroy people and destroy lives, as Martin Luther King’s daughter. Because I know that the only way to get what we really want – and really get it and not just crumbs – is through nonviolence and peace.
And so please, let’s stay focused in that way. And remember, everybody is not on the same page. There are people who will try to incite a race war in this country. Let’s not fall into their hands and into their trap. There’s another way. So in the name of Martin Luther King Jr. from the soils of Atlanta, Georgia, and from the five-year-old girl who lost her daddy to gun violence senselessly, at the hands of law enforcement. Let’s do this the peaceful and nonviolent way, to deal with the evils and the conditions of our time. But I will say as he said in his “I Have a Dream” speech, if we go back to business as usual, we’re gonna be in trouble. Let’s not go back to business as usual. Let’s deal with these issues, that people are crying out of their soul and their spirit. The conditions that have led to this kind of action. Thank you.