Hundreds of protesters rallied Thursday in downtown Athens against police violence and racial injustice. The crowd also protested the Confederate monument on Broad Street and the Athens-Clarke County budget for fiscal year 2021.
The protesters were met with counterprotesters in support of the ACC Police Department on the steps and street in front of City Hall. Both groups had microphones and bullhorns and attempted to speak over one another, setting the tone for the protest.
The protesters, after listening to People’s Budget Athens founder Chris Xavier speak, were led by Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement founder Mokah Jasmine Johnson through the streets of downtown to the Arch. People’s Budget Athens is a community-led organization that wants participatory budgeting in Athens, where the public directly impacts where city money goes.
Speakers spoke and read poetry to the crowds, including local activist Imani Scott-Blackwell and University of Georgia alumnae Tifara Brown.
“Today was a little hectic because there’s another protest going on when we came, so we let them do their thing,” Johnson said about the groups at City Hall. “It kind of changed our plan … to march earlier [to the Arch] than we wanted to, but overall it went well.”
AADM had volunteers guiding protesters through the streets and led the group through various chants.
“The movement will be on beat,” Scott-Blackwell said with a laugh as she conducted the crowd as they tried to learn new chants.
Aside from the chants, Johnson and Scott-Blackwell advised the crowd on how they could make lasting change in ACC, from continuing to fight to emailing their commissioner and learning strategy on how to organize.
“This is not about being nice, this is about justice, y’all,” Scott-Blackwell said to the crowd.
The organizers led the protesters over to the Confederate monument where they led a 5-minute moment of silence in honor of those who have died due to racial injustice. They called out names such as Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks, two Black men who died in Brunswick and Atlanta.
Protesters also knelt in honor of Tamir Rice’s birthday. Rice was killed by police in 2014 for holding a toy gun. He would have been 18 today.
“Right now they’re cute, but then one day he’ll be a suspect,” Ashley Mize, an Athens resident, said about her seven-year-old son Jondan. She brought her son and five-year-old daughter Kaliyah to the rally. Mize is white and her two children are biracial.
A few of the counterprotesters from City Hall stood between the Starbucks and the Chick-fil-A. Two counterprotesters shared a microphone as they spoke about God and the Bible. Another yelled at protesters, who had begun chanting “Black Lives Matter!”
“We couldn’t even have all these few hours without this yelling and preaching or whatever they believe God to be,” Scott-Blackwell said. “This is some real white Jesus behavior, honestly.”
A few of the protesters began crowding around a counterprotester, who began to walk into the street and gestured for the protesters to follow him. The overall response to the counterprotesters included chanting louder, making noise to drown them out, and in the case of Scott-Blackwell, burning sage around them.
“I heard that there was going to be counterprotesters today … I know they love to paint us not peaceful. So I was like, maybe I can make it a little bit more clear,” Scott-Blackwell said about the sage.
At around 7 p.m., the majority of the crowd dispersed, as the scheduled rally ended. However, the counterprotesters and about 50 other protesters remained.
Around then, an older man at the protest was pushed to the ground by a counterprotester. The crowd at the monument rushed over to the area and the counterprotesters ran up College Avenue.
Police were shown GoPro camera footage from the counterprotesters of the interaction and other protesters provided statements. The man said he was OK and was helped by the medics. Two groups of police officers approached the man separately, who said no crime had been committed.
“Fight for your First Amendment rights,” the man said.