ATLANTA – Below is a statement from Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, on the curfew and militarization of law enforcement.
Georgians from all walks of life are engaged in exercising their First Amendment rights to protest and petition the government for redress of grievances, especially systemic police violence against Black Americans. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Minneapolis and Louisville, respectively, and the death of Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of vigilantes emboldened by the police in Georgia have been condemned around the world.
The ACLU of Georgia is an advocate for criminal legal reform to transform a system that is failing African Americans in particular. The criminal legal system in Georgia has been a substitute for segregation in a system of racially-biased control that strips many thousands of Black Georgians of rights that were hard won during the Civil Rights Era.
The rights of people in Georgia to lift their voices in protest must be protected.
The Mayor of Atlanta and the Governor of Georgia have implemented a Curfew and State of Emergency. We urge the following to the Mayor of Atlanta, the Governor, and leaders of other jurisdictions in Georgia.
1. The stated goal of the Mayor’s curfew is “the safety and preservation of life, limb and property of the citizenry of the city” This concern for safety must be implemented in a manner that preserves the safety of all protesters while recognizing their First Amendment rights.
Accordingly, the goal of police enforcement should be to facilitate compliance rather than to punish non-compliance.
Because of the grave risks of COVID-19 exposure for people in custodial settings, the use of custodial arrest to enforce these restrictions fails to be an appropriate public health measure and should almost never be the outcome of these enforcement efforts. Such arrests should be prohibited unless all non-incarceration alternatives have been exhausted.
2. Enforcement of the curfew and any other measures to ensure public safety should be conducted in a non-militarized manner. Officers should be dressed in normal patrol uniforms (though they may be supplemented with medical personal protective equipment, such as surgical masks and gloves, as appropriate) rather than wearing military uniforms, SWAT uniforms, or helmets. Officers should avoid the public display of long guns, military-style weapons, and armored vehicles.
3. To the extent possible, police should address alleged violations (especially first-time violations) with an explanation of the rules and a warning rather than an immediate sanction.
4. Non-violent protesters exercising their First Amendment rights must be allowed to leave and return to their homes rather than being arrested.
5. Emergency medical assistance must be rendered to any injured person.
6. Persons arrested in the city of Atlanta should be charged under City of Atlanta ordinances which provide that they can be released on their own recognizance or given a citation in lieu of arrest.
7. The dismissal of the officers who tased the students from Spelman and Morehouse was important. However, it serves to highlight the different treatment of community members who have the support of a college president and others who are influential and those who do not.
In this time when thousands of our citizens are exercising their First Amendment Rights to protest police misconduct, it is imperative that the government’s response be measured and appropriate rather than further police misconduct and increased militarization of our streets.