Kemp mobilizes Georgia Department of Corrections Special Operations Unit to Savannah amid protests

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp released video of the Georgia Department of Corrections Special Operations Unit leaving for Savannah, Georgia to assist local law enforcement and “ensure peaceful assembly” amid ongoing protests that have spread across the U.S. and the state of Georgia in the wake of the death of George Floyd during an encounter with police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The deployment of the corrections unit comes after Kemp said more Georgia National Guard troops would be sent to Athens, Savannah and several other cities across the state as protests take place both in response to the death of Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbery’s death in Georgia in February.

Floyd, who was black, died while being arrested by Minneapolis police for suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill on May 25. Cellphone video showed that a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd, who was handcuffed, pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving.

Chauvin now faces murder and manslaughter charges. The three other officers who took part in the arrest were fired but haven't been charged.

Arbery was killed Feb. 23 when a white father and son armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-old black man after spotting him running in their neighborhood just outside the port city of Brunswick. More than two months passed before Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested May 7 on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.

On Sunday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that two police officers had been fired and three others were placed on desk duty over excessive use of force during the weekend protests.

At a Sunday evening news conference, Atlanta’s mayor said she and police Chief Erika Shields made the decision to fire the two officers after reviewing body-camera footage of a Saturday night incident that first gained attention from video online and on local news.

“Use of excessive force is never acceptable,” Bottoms said.

National Guard soldiers had helped enforce a 9 p.m. curfew Saturday in Atlanta, where violence marred otherwise peaceful protests.

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Bottoms signed an executive order Sunday extending the curfew in the city, according to text and email notifications sent to residents. Taking effect at 9 p.m. Sunday, it ends at sunrise Monday.

The curfew was imposed after demonstrations Friday night turned violent with people setting fires, damaging vehicles and smashing shop and restaurant windows.Atlanta police said they had arrested nearly 230 people overall after two nights of protests after incidents Saturday night in which protesters threw rocks at officers and broke windows in the downtown area.

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“The protesters need to know we’re going to support their efforts in a peaceful, nonviolent protest,” Kemp said. “The agitators need to know that we’ll be there, like you saw tonight, to take them to jail if they’re destroying lives and property.”

Kemp declared a state of emergency late Friday for Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta. Late Saturday, he expanded that order to include the entire state for a period extending through next weekend.

Bottoms said Sunday she believed the overnight curfew and the National Guard presence helped reduce violence and property destruction in the city Saturday.

She also had harsh words for President Donald Trump after he tweeted Saturday that “Liberal Governors and Mayors must get MUCH tougher” on violent protests or the federal government would intervene, potentially using the military.

“He’s making it worse,” Bottoms said. “This is not about using military force. This is about where we are in America. We are beyond a tipping point in this country. And his rhetoric only inflames that.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.