By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
As protests over the death of George Floyd — the man killed by Minneapolis, Minnesota, police on Memorial Day — continued to spread across the nation and into lower Alabama, Atmore police are prepared for the possibility the dissent might make its way into the city.
“We have a plan in place if it does,” Police Chief Chuck Brooks said Monday, June 1. “We’ve monitored the different events over the weekend, and we have to be on stand-by. We have to be ready for anything, from hurricanes to thunderstorms to protests. I had a special talk with our day-shift officers today, and I will be going over (the plan) with the other shifts as they come on duty.”
Both Brooks and Mayor Jim Staff agreed that Floyd’s death, which was caught on video, was wrongful, no matter what triggered the police over-reaction.
“I think every police officer in the state of Alabama has expressed disgust over what they saw (on the video),” Brooks said. “I think they all are striving to do a better job of policing in general.”
Staff said he felt both sides — the Minneapolis police officer, who has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and the violent protesters, who have burned buildings and cars and looted businesses — were in the wrong.
“The police officer was wrong, but the other folks are wrong, too,” he said. “The people in Atlanta, Birmingham and Mobile didn’t do anything to anybody, and the people in Atmore didn’t do anything to anybody.”
The reference was to protests that turned violent over the past several days, including gunfire and several arrests in Mobile after dissenters tried to block an Interstate 10 exit ramp. The violence, which also erupted at a Birmingham rally, sparked Gov. Kay Ivey to authorize the activation of up to 1,000 guardsmen, if protesters continue to exhibit violent tendencies that could overwhelm local authorities.
“The Alabama National Guard stands ready to assist when peaceful protests become violent and dangerous to our public safety,” the governor said. “I will always support the right of the people of Alabama to peacefully lift your voices in anger and frustration. However, we will not allow our cities to become a target for those, especially from other states, who choose to use violence and destruction to make their point.”
Pastor Darryl North, of Empowerment Tabernacle in Atmore, has been asked to put together a group of ministers to try and address ways to head off the problem before it actually becomes a problem.
“We’re going to come together and sit down and talk,” North said. “We are going to try and come up with a proactive way to reason with our people. The pastors will meet first, then we’ll take our ideas to city leaders.”
The local preacher said he worries that the spread of protests will eventually reach Atmore. He agreed with Ivey that “outside agitators” were responsible for several of the protest rallies.
“What I’m afraid of is that we’re right in the middle,” he said. “They’re talking about one in Bay Minette, and they’ve had them in Mobile, Pensacola, Montgomery, Birmingham, Huntsville. People that are not even from our city are influencing our people, so we want to be positive in our influence. We want to stress unity, love, understanding and compassion.”
Brooks said he and his officers would observe any gathering in opposition to the Minnesota murder and would stand quietly by, unless things turned ugly.
“The U.S. Constitution guarantees all of us the right to assemble and the right to protest,” he pointed out. “We are in turbulent times, and (police) are tasked with a dangerous job. We are responsible for keeping the peace, and that’s what we’re going to do, to the best of our ability.”