Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms says she is trying to strike a “tough balance” between criticizing police officers and supporting ones who protect the city amid protests spurred by the recent killing of a black man in Minnesota by a white officer.
“This has been a really tough balance because I feel helpless. I feel angry. I feel frustrated,” Bottoms, who is African American, told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an interview posting Tuesday as part of his podcast, “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.”
“But the balance to that, I know that there are men and women who put on a uniform every day who love and care about our community. And they do it for all the right reasons,” said Bottoms, a Democrat. “And that’s the vast majority of our police officers in our city – at least think they do it with a good heart and with good intentions.”
The comments from the mayor come a week after the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who died at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis. Protesters who have taken to the streets in Atlanta and dozens of other cities in recent days to draw attention to the case and police violence across America say they want to see charges for all four police officers involved in Floyd’s death. So far, officials have only charged the officer who was seen in a video with his knee on Floyd’s neck with third-degree murder and manslaughter – charges the protesters believe aren’t harsh enough.
In a number of cities, including Atlanta, peaceful protests have turned violent and destructive as individuals set fires, vandalized buildings and looted stores. Bottoms had established a curfew for Atlanta for Saturday evening through Sunday morning, saying it was to “restore” the city following the destruction there this weekend. The mayor extended the curfew Sunday evening to continue into Monday morning.
The mayor told Gupta that seeing Floyd’s death in a widely circulated video “broke me,” and criticized another officer involved in the incident.
“I kept looking at the other officer’s face, looking to see something, looking to see something in his face that showed he wanted to help or that he had some concerns. But, I just saw emptiness,” she said. “The only thing he was concerned about was making sure that the bystanders who were pleading for Mr. Floyd’s life didn’t get any closer to interfere with his murder.”
Bottoms, a former judge and city council member, has also criticized two police officers on Sunday who were fired after video showed them using “excessive force” against two college students during Saturday night’s protests.
“As we watch the video today, it became abundantly clear immediately with the young woman that this force was excessive,” Bottoms said. “It also became abundantly clear that the officer who tased the young man needed to be terminated as well.”
The video showed the officers breaking the windows of the vehicle the two people were in, yanking a woman out of the car and tasing the man. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said she recognized the two as students of two historically black colleges in the city.
Bottoms also stressed in her interview to CNN the need to remain vigilant amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far led to the deaths of more than 2,000 Georgians.
“I just hope that people will get tested and will remember that we are really, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic … and our communities are sick and they’re tired and they’re dying. They’re dying from Covid-19, they’re dying from poverty, they’re dying from police brutality,” she said, noting that she was planning to get tested on Monday.
CNN’s Ben Tinker, Chandelis Duster, Gregory Krieg and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.