Atlanta mayor faces criticism over early handling of protest site

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has been seen as a viable vice president pick for Joe Biden, will likely have to respond to critics over her handling of reports of armed protesters occupying the area around a Wendy’s restaurant where a Black man was fatally shot by a White police officer last month.

A Fox News news crew last month observed a group of armed men at the location where Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot in June and there has been new scrutiny over the city's handling of the unrest after the murder of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner, who was shot and killed near the location on the Fourth of July.

Bottoms made headlines for her tough stance after the shooting. She said at a press conference that “enough is enough.”

“We have talked about this movement that's happening across America and this moment in time when we have the ears and the interests of people across this country and across this globe who are saying they want to see change.

"But the difference in this moment in time with the civil rights movement -- in the civil rights movement, there was a defined, common enemy,” she said. “We're fighting the enemy within when we are shooting each other up on our streets."

Her comments came in the wake of Turner's murder.

“You can’t blame this on a police officer,” the mayor said. “You can’t say this about criminal justice reform. This is about some people carrying some weapons who shot up a car with an 8-year-old baby in the car for what?”

The killing attracted national attention and prompted the state’s Gov. Brian Kemp to declare a state of emergency, authorizing the activation of up to 1,000 National Guard troops after a bloody weekend that left five dead, including the 8-year-old Turner.


But Turner's killing prompted questions about how the city allowed the unrest to carry on for weeks, despite reports of armed protesters and groups that blocked a city street.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Turner was riding in the backseat of her mother’s car when she was struck by gunfire. The paper said a group stopped the mom. There have been two other reports of shootings at the location and “just last week, armed individuals at the Wendy’s threatened to shoot an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and photographer,” the paper said.

The AJC said it reached out the mayor’s office about why the city failed to clear out the protesters, but the mayor’s office did not comment. An after-hours email from Fox News to the office was also not immediately returned.

But the protest at the Wendy’s seems to be eerily similar to Seattle’s CHOP after reports from Washington state indicated that protesters formed their own armed security that banned police from the location, a claim the city denied.

President Trump has been a top critic of Democrat leadership during the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody. Bottoms — who just announced that she has COVID-19 — now appears to be vulnerable to renewed criticism for not getting a grip on the protest earlier. Bottoms has reminded critics that the state has an “open carry law,” which creates legal hurdles.

On June 24, Steve Harrington, a reporter for Fox News, said he observed a roadblock at the location with no police in sight. The Atlanta Police Department told Fox News in a statement at the time that, "APD is monitoring the situation and plans to coordinate with community leaders and the Wendy’s property owner to address security issues and help preserve peace for this community as soon as possible."


Police did not immediately respond to an email early Tuesday about the new criticism. But like Seattle’s CHOP, it took a deadly shooting for the city to act decisively, according to reports.

Earlier Monday, Atlanta police helped as sanitation crews cleared the area around the torched Wendy’s. Flowers and memorials to Rayshard Brooks, who was shot by police at the Wendy's, as well as posters with messages protesting police brutality, were cleared away.

Richard Rose, president of the NAACP’s Atlanta branch, told the AJC that the protest should not have “resulted in gunfire.”


“Political leadership should have anticipated and reached out. They can’t keep reacting,” he said.

Fox  News' Gregg Re and the Associated Press contributed to this report