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Atlanta rocked by police shooting of black man

Protests in Atlanta continued Sunday over the death of Rayshard Brooks, a black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer in a Wendy’s parking lot on Friday night. The shooting has led to the firing of that officer and the resignation of Atlanta’s police chief. Leah Fleming, a host and correspondent with Georgia Public Broadcasting, joins Hari Sreenivasan with the latest.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Leah, are you surprised with the turn of events in the last 24 hours?

  • Leah Fleming:

    Yes, I am surprised at what has happened in Atlanta.

    After several days and nights of relatively peaceful protests with zero zero arrests, things had been going pretty well. You know, the protests have certainly continued in the wake of the George Floyd killing, but they were peaceful and they were productive.

    And there were conversations of turning those protests more toward other actions, working with the city to begin to really address the systemic problem of police brutality toward African-Americans and the systemic problem of racism in general.

    But things took a very ugly turn last night. And this is, of course, in result to the killing of Rayshard, Rayshard Brooks. And suddenly things took a turn in the city. That part of the city went up in flames, literally. The Wendy's outside where he was killed, that Wendy's was set on fire. There were several other smaller fires that were set in the area. The fire department couldn't get close to even beginning to put out those fires for over an hour because protesters blocked their their way so they couldn't do that.

    Protesters also made their way up an embankment onto I-75, which is a major thoroughfare interstate in that cuts through the city of Atlanta so traffic was held up for miles. So things I would describe what we saw last night as rage. And that rage just reemerged in the wake of this killing of yet another black man at the hands of police.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What do you think of the resignation of the police chief?

  • Leah Fleming:

    So Erika Shields is the, was the police chief, and she served for over three and a half years in that role. She actually was very popular among, she had a great working relationship with with Mayor Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

    She has a great working relationship with her colleagues in the police force. She also worked well within in the community, the communities that she served. She was known to be tough on crime. Her first year in the role of police chief serving in 2017 that entire year she brought down major crimes by 8%, according to FBI statistics. She also brought down murders by 29%. But she was also known to be compassionate and she was known to be a listener in the community that she would you know over the past few weeks during the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, she was actually seen out there at the protests talking to demonstrators and more importantly, listening to demonstrators.

    So it was somewhat of a surprise that after the killing of Mr. Brooks on a Friday night, by Saturday morning, the NAACP of Georgia was calling for her to immediately step down. And then by 4:00 in the afternoon, she offered her resignation to the mayor.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You were in a position where you were part of the conversation of the city in the wake of George Floyd. What are some of the hopeful things that you have heard and seen about people coming to some agreements? And what is the events of the last 24, 36 hours do to that?

  • Leah Fleming:

    I think what has been positive is the fact that there have been so many people of all races and backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds that have come out to protest and they are not going anywhere. Those protests have continued religiously. Day after day in this city and people seem more unified than ever as a city to address this problem. And that is a powerful thing to say that that didn't just end after the arrest of the officers in Minneapolis. So that has been wonderful to see.

    This moment, I think is going to cause more growth, ultimately more growth, but it hurt, it hurt the community, you saw that when you saw that rage come out last night in the protests. This morning, looking at the scene around Wendy's where Mr. Brooks died, where there will be the scene of more protests today. You saw people come out. There are people out there that are taking pictures and walking around talking. There is a sense of just sadness around that scene today.

    So to say people are sick and tired of being sick and tired is really an understatement. There was just a sorrow that is going through that community right now. The people that were out there on this beautiful Sunday morning, a very peaceful one, but just sad. And so I think we have a long way to go in Atlanta in terms of beginning to build trust with the police.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Leah Fleming from Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Leah Fleming:

    Thank you so much.

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