At least three men brandishing long guns — seen Tuesday night near the Wendy‘s restaurant in Atlanta where Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot during his arrest earlier this month — told Fox News that police were no longer allowed in the area.
One man, who said he was holding a 12-gauge shotgun, told reporter Steve Harrigan he was armed because there were no longer police officers to protect them.
Another man said he lost confidence that the city’s police were committed to their pledge to “serve and protect.”
“The police aren’t allowed here because they’re not here to protect us,” the man with the shotgun said.
Harrigan told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that he observed a roadblock with no police in sight. The Atlanta Police Department told Fox News in a statement early Wednesday, “APD is monitoring the situation and plans to coordinate with community leaders and the Wendy’s property owner to address security issues and help preserve peace for this community as soon as possible.”
Previously, the most recent tweet from the department was posted a few days ago, assuring residents that officers were still capable of responding to 911 calls. That tweet followed reports that some Atlanta police officers had been calling out sick, in what the city’s interim police chief said was an indication that they “may feel abandoned” by the city’s leadership.
Brooks’ killing on June 12 set off violent protests in a city that was still reeling from protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Protesters in Atlanta said the Brooks killing was yet another example of police brutality directed at the black community. In the aftermath of Brooks’ death, the Atlanta police chief resigned, and protesters burned the Wendy’s restaurant.
One Atlanta police officer was fired, arrested and charged with murder in connection with the death, while another officer was reassigned, pending results of an investigation.
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest on Twitter shortly after Brooks’ funeral service at the city’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.
“The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office Fugitive Unit just apprehended Wendy’s arson suspect Natalie White moments ago,” the office said. “White is being booked into the Fulton County Jail right now. This case is being investigated by @ATLFireRescue Arson Unit. @FGTV @FultonInfo.”
The deaths of Floyd and Brooks have led to a groundswell of protests against racial inequality, a movement to take down Confederate statues and other symbols, and demands for the dismantling of police departments or the shifting of their funding toward social services.
Police body-camera video showed Brooks, 27, and officers having a calm and cooperative conversation for more than 40 minutes. A struggle erupted when police tried to handcuff Brooks for being intoxicated behind the wheel of his car at a Wendy’s drive-thru. Brooks grabbed a stun gun from one of the officers and fired it in their direction as he tried to flee.
The lawyer for the police officer who fired the deadly shot told Fox News last week that several claims from Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. were “not true.”
Lance LoRusso, said when his client, Garrett Rolfe, 26, fired his weapon, Brooks was not “running away.” He said Brooks “turned and offered extreme violence toward a uniformed law enforcement officer. If he was able to deploy the stun gun, it would incapacitate Officer [Garrett] Rolfe through his body armor, and at that point, if he decided to disarm another officer, he would be in possession of a firearm.”
The armed protesters who spoke to Fox News said they agreed with the city’s top prosecutor that the officers involved in the shooting could have resolved the interaction peacefully and the blame should be placed squarely on them.
The idea of a “police-free” zone seems to be an emerging demand among protesters. The first major aggression displayed toward police in wake of Floyd’s death was when protesters set fire to the Minneapolis police station that housed the officers involved in the deadly arrest.
Since then, calls to defund and disband entire police departments have gained traction in some Democrat circles. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., the influential lawmaker, likened police in the city to a cancer that has to be extricated.
Protesters in Seattle formed what they called CHOP — “Capitol Hill Organized Protest” — which they considered a “police-free” area in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. City officials there have been criticized for being too lenient with the protesters, but two recent shootings — including one that resulted in a fatality — prompted Mayor Jenny Durkan to announce that an effort was underway to end the protest.
Harrigan asked the armed Atlanta men what would happen if a police officer told them to drop their weapon. One insisted that they were peaceful.
“It’s my legal right to bear arms,” said the other, referring to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. “And at no point will I allow my right to be disturbed.”
Fox News’ Steve Harrigan, Nick Givas and the Associated Press contributed to this report