Gov. Brian Kemp ordered a surge of additional National Guard troops to deploy across Georgia ahead of several potential protests Sunday, as officials in Savannah prepared for an unsanctioned rally and Atlanta imposed another curfew.
The governor signed the order late Saturday that expands a state of emergency across Georgia and allows as many as 3,000 National Guard troops to deploy to reinforce local and state law enforcement.
His decision came after discussions with Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who said Saturday that an out-of-state group is planning an afternoon rally with a mission to incite violence and vandalism.
“We have watched protests degenerate into riots,” Johnson told reporters, according to The Savannah Morning News. “We do not believe that violence and destruction of property is a valid form of protest.”
Johnson and other city leaders participated in a separate rally that drew thousands who gathered peacefully to demand an end to racial bias at City Hall. Later, he ordered a curfew for the coastal city to discourage mass gatherings.
Kemp told Channel 2 Action News late Saturday that the state would have “people on the ground down there” to thwart the chaos that erupted in Atlanta late Friday when peaceful demonstrations turned violent.
Echoing Atlanta officials, who blamed some of the disruptions on out-of-state provocateurs, Kemp said the state takes a “zero tolerance” policy toward violence and that top law enforcement officials are prepared to deploy “wherever we need to, tomorrow, the next day and the day after that.”
“My message to those individuals if they have that outside agenda, other than justice and peaceful protest, they should rethink their decision to stay in Georgia and maybe move on to places where they came from.”
Kemp said officials aim to prevent the looting and destruction that rocked Atlanta Friday, when demonstrators ransacked stores and attractions in parts of downtown and in Buckhead.
Little damage was reported Saturday as roughly 1,000 National Guard troops fanned out across parts of the city, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms imposed another curfew from 9 p.m. Sunday to dawn on Monday.
The gatherings were sparked after the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died after an officer kneeled on his neck while handcuffed.
Bottoms and other leaders say the violence risks overshadowing meaningful calls for racial justice and protests against police brutality.
“What happens when we have these valid protests and uprisings in our streets is, we get distracted from what the real issue is,” she said Sunday on CNN. “We need to get back to what the problem is, and that’s the killing of unarmed black people in America.”