ATLANTA (AP) — Police and leaders in the Atlanta area were preparing Thursday for protests and possible unrest as a grand jury in Missouri decides whether to criminally charge a white officer who fatally shot a black man.
The Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked weeks of protests and some violence, including looting and rioting. So far, all protests around Atlanta have been peaceful. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said preparations were underway to develop a plan for responding to any protests that might occur in the wake of the grand jury's decision.
While Atlanta's leaders promised no tolerance for violence, most said they would not deter peaceful protesters. During the first days of largely peaceful protests, police in Ferguson donned riot gear and patrolled in armored vehicles, drawing widespread criticism.
"I would be disappointed if there is no indictment and I believe, that if there is no indictment, there will be public protests," Reed said. "And we will be prepared for them, but we will be prepared in a way that respects the right of people to get together and have a public conversation."
Police and civic leaders met Thursday in neighboring DeKalb County to discuss similar preparations. The county's deputy chief operative officer, Cedric Alexander, said he did not anticipate clashes. He said his department has good relations with the community it polices.
"In most cases, people are going to protest but they're going to protest in a very friendly and manageable way," said Alexander, who oversees the county's police department. "And people have the right to do that."
Alexander said police will work with civil rights, religious and other groups to identify violent people who interrupt peaceful protests.
Racial tension in Atlanta has flared into violence in the past. Police arrested more than 300 people in 1992 after four white police officers in Los Angeles were acquitted of beating Rodney King, a black man. Young black protesters left a peaceful demonstration at Atlanta's City Hall and attacked whites at a subway station. Windows were smashed and some passersby were beaten. About two dozen people were hospitalized with injuries.
A riot erupted in 1966 in Atlanta's Summerhill neighborhood after police shot a black man. A white mob in Atlanta whipped up in part by a race-baiting campaign for governor killed black residents in an infamous 1906 rampage.
State leaders have occasionally overreacted to the possibility of violence. Fearing a riot, Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, a segregationist, ordered police to protect the state Capitol in Atlanta during the funeral procession of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Instead, calm prevailed.
The Atlanta University Center, home to Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse and Spellman colleges, was the site of rioting in 1992. Students there said it's difficult to know how people might react to the grand jury's decision in the Ferguson case.
"It's hard to tell, but it's not unexpected if it doesn't result in what the people want," said John Frazer, a black student at Morehouse College. "The only people that I see want the officer to be persecuted for his actions. ... I can definitely see how things can take a turn if it doesn't come out that way."