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Georgia Lawmakers Come Back To Work Amid Protests Over Brooks' And Arbery's Deaths

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today in Atlanta, the line of demonstrators stretched for blocks around the state capital.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Resilience, we are strong.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Resilience, we are strong.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Shoulder to shoulder...

SHAPIRO: Protesters called on state lawmakers to pass a hate crimes law and other police reforms. It follows another fatal police shooting Friday, when 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta police in a fast food parking lot. Joining us now is Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler, who was at the rally.

Hi, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Paint a picture for us. What did it look like today?

FOWLER: Well, this morning, 9 AM - it was a Monday morning. There were people stretched for several streets blocked off in downtown Atlanta. The event was emceed by Atlanta rapper Jeezy and saw several state representatives speak about legislation introduced to reform the state's justice system, like Democratic Rep. Bee Nguyen, who filed a bill just this week...

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BEE NGUYEN: We need to repeal stand your ground. No more of this shooting first under the guise of fear.

FOWLER: ...And NBA head coach Lloyd Pierce, who says he's driving some of the Atlanta Hawks' staff to Montgomery, Ala., to immerse them in the history of racism and oppression that black people have faced.

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LLOYD PIERCE: I was born a black man. And I know one day, I'll die a black man, just as a lot of our players and coaches are on this stage. But I don't want to die because I'm a black man.

FOWLER: Now, the original intent of the march, Ari, was supposed to be about Georgia's disastrous primary last week, where several polling places, primarily in black communities, saw waits of up to eight hours to vote.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, and the protest was scheduled to coincide with the legislature coming back after a break because of the coronavirus. Are lawmakers likely to address the recent killings?

FOWLER: Well, yes and no. One thing still pending is a hate crime statute that roared back to life after the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga., mentioned here by Reverend Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.

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JAMAL BRYANT: We're sick and tired of, every week, having a different hashtag for innocent black lives. We're sick and tired that in Georgia, you can get killed just for jogging.

FOWLER: Now, as he mentioned, it's another week and another hashtag, this time in Atlanta, after 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks was killed by a white police officer. That gave today's march a new purpose.

SHAPIRO: How much public support is there for a new hate crimes law?

FOWLER: Well, you know, we've seen support from major Fortune 500 companies. The Republican state House speaker said today that it would be a stain on the state if it didn't get passed. And I talked to several people on the ground, including Wade Cook, a college student from an Atlanta suburb. He said he was marching because the deaths of Brooks and other people that look like him were too much.

WADE COOK: This injustice, it's happening, like, almost every day on a semi-daily basis, and we've become accustomed to it. We've become used to it, and that's disgusting to me. That is disgusting that I have to be used to this. That is disgusting that this is consistently happening, and it has to stop.

FOWLER: So many people I talked to today, Ari, said similar things, that now is the time to act.

SHAPIRO: And so what are the next steps in Atlanta? Where do things go from here?

FOWLER: Well, some structural change does appear to be on the horizon. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has accepted the resignation of Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields and is working with the city council on reform to the city's police department and corrections department. And as far as the legislature goes, they did not take up the hate crimes bill today. In fact, the Senate committee where it's been hung up actually canceled its meeting this afternoon.

SHAPIRO: Stephen Fowler, a reporter with Georgia Public Broadcasting, thank you very much.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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