ATLANTA – The mayor of Atlanta said Tuesday that she doesn’t agree with the Georgia governor’s order to mobilize the National Guard in her city as a surge in violence became a political talking point.
Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency on Monday and authorized activation of up to 1,000 Guard troops after a weekend of gun violence in Atlanta left five people dead, including Secoriea Turner, an 8-year-old girl.
Police on Tuesday released a short video of an armed man who they described as a person of interest in the girl’s shooting. Atlanta Police Lt. Pete Malecki said the video comes from a surveillance camera near where Secoriea was shot while riding in the back seat of an SUV. The reward for information in the case was doubled to $20,000.
Kemp's office said troops will provide support at sites such as the Capitol, governor’s mansion and the state Department of Public Safety headquarters — damaged by a group early Sunday — freeing state law enforcement to patrol other areas of the city.
Some National Guard troops guarded those sites Monday night, but there was no visible presence by mid-morning Tuesday.
“Peaceful protests were hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda. Now, innocent Georgians are being targeted, shot, and left for dead,” the Republican governor said.
But Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Kemp issued his order without asking if the city needed help. The city had already been coordinating with the Georgia State Patrol, and “at no time was it mentioned that anyone felt there was a need for the National Guard to come in,” she said on ABC's “Good Morning America.”
Maj. Gen. Tom Carden, who oversees the Georgia National Guard, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that troops stood guard at the three sites Monday night and will return Tuesday night. He said the first night was peaceful.
Carden declined to say how many troops were deployed, citing safety concerns. There were four Humvees with 10 to 12 armed troops outside the Georgia State Capitol Tuesday evening.
Secoriea Turner was riding with her mother and another adult Saturday night near a Wendy’s that was burned after a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, was fatally shot by a white police officer in the restaurant parking lot last month. When the SUV Secoriea was in tried to enter a parking lot, they were confronted by “a group of armed individuals” blocking the entrance, police said. The girl’s mother, Charmaine Turner, said shots were fired and Secoriea was hit before they could make a U-turn.
The video released Tuesday shows a Black man in a white shirt and dark pants carrying an AR-15 rifle with a tan stock and grip.
“I’m going to ask, I’m going to plead, for the assistance of the public in helping us get a person of interest identified in the case,” Malecki told reporters. “I’m confident that somebody, somebody knows the name of this male.”
Malecki said police believe “numerous armed individuals” were present at the barricade on University Avenue and that at least four people may have participated in the shooting. He said police believe at least eight gunshots were fired into the Jeep after Turner tried to drive across the barricade.
The fast food outlet was burned the night after Brooks' death, and the site had become a focus of frequent demonstrations against police brutality. At least intermittently, armed people had manned a barricade on the street in front of the Wendy's.
Police had removed barricades at least once before, but one journalist was assaulted near the site and gunmen threatened or turned back other people. Atlanta police helped sanitation crews clear the area Monday, despite some protesters who said they were not part of the violence.
Nikema Williams, a state senator and chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, called Kemp’s decision reckless. Critics of such mobilizations have said that deploying troops on city streets could provoke more violence.
“His choice to deploy National Guard troops for today’s selfish purpose is outrageous and will endanger lives,” she said in a statement.
But Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia said Tuesday he agreed with the governor’s decision, and said lawless areas must not be allowed to exist in Atlanta or any other American city.
“After what we saw this past weekend, I think it was the right move,” said Collins, who is running for U.S. Senate.
Over the holiday period from Friday through Sunday, 31 people were shot in 11 different incidents, Atlanta police said.
When asked about the surge in violence, the mayor said she thinks people are anxious and frustrated about the coronavirus pandemic and high-profile cases of police brutality.
“I think it’s just a perfect storm of distress in America,” said Bottoms, who learned Monday that she, her husband and one of their four children have tested positive for COVID-19.
Associated Press writers Jeff Amy and Jeff Martin and photographer John Bazemore contributed to this story.