Atlanta moved quickly Sunday to immediately fire two police officers involved in the violent arrest of two young Black people who were roughly dragged from a car and apparently shocked with stun guns as anti-racism protests erupted across the nation.
The ugly confrontation was captured live on video by CBS 46 Saturday as a group of officers suddenly stormed a car with the two college students inside.
City and police officials spent the day studying the body cams of the officers involved after Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she saw the “disturbing” video. She announced at an evening press briefing that two officers would be fired immediately, and three others would be assigned to desk duty pending further investigation.
“There clearly was an excessive use of force,” Bottoms said. “We understand that our officers are working very long hours under an enormous amount of stress, but we also understand that the use of excessive force is never acceptable.”
Police Chief Erika Shields said it was “shocking” to see how police were “manhandling a couple of young people in their car.”
After she viewed the body cam tapes, “I knew that I had only one option, and that is to terminate the employees,” Shields said. Regardless of the pressures of the job, particularly now, “we have a responsibility ... not to escalate the incident and not to further cause harm or injury,” she added.
In the TV video of the confrontation, the car passenger, identified by friends on social media as Spelman College student Taniya Pilgrim, can be seen with her hands in the air and her door open. She states at least twice that she will get out of the car as police smash the vehicle’s windows.
When the car lurches forward for a split-second before stopping completely, at least one officer fires what appears to be a stun gun at Pilgrim.
Pilgrim, who still has her hands up, can be heard shrieking, “Stop!”
An officer then slashes at least one of the car’s tires as another fires a stun gun at the driver, identified by friends on social media as Messiah Young of Morehouse College. Young is then dragged out of the car while Pilgrim, lying face down on the street, is handcuffed and then led away by an officer.
Separate video of the incident, captured by CBS 46 reporter Jasmina Alston, also shows Pilgrim’s arrest. Neither video shows what happened to Young after he was pulled from the car nor what unfolded in the minutes leading up to the arrests.
The incident occurred around 9:45 p.m local time, about 45 minutes after the city’s curfew went into effect. The curfew lasted until sunrise Sunday and was intended to curb civil unrest. Bottoms announced another 9 p.m. curfew for Sunday.
In a statement released earlier Sunday, the presidents of the four historically black colleges and universities that make up the Atlanta University Center Consortium ― Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College ― condemned the violent arrests. They called on Bottoms and Shields to investigate the incident and take “appropriate action.”
“Last night, two members of the Atlanta University Center family (one from Morehouse College and one from Spelman College) were detained with unnecessary force by law enforcement in downtown Atlanta,” the statement read. “While we understand the need to maintain order, the abusive behavior reported to us is completely unacceptable.”
The statement continued: “It is clear that the behavior of law enforcement in this country must change. Incidents like the one last night and the many events of police violence ... leading up to today heighten the urgency of this need for change. And we support our students as champions and activists on behalf of change.”
Bottoms said at the press briefing that she reached out to school officials to discuss the situation.
Hundreds of community members marched Sunday to protest the officers’ actions against their Pilgrim and Young. They could be heard chanting: “No justice, no peace!”
A GoFundMe titled “Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim Bail Money,” created by a recent Spelman student raised over $80,000 in 16 hours. According to an update posted on the crowdfunding page, Pilgrim has been released from police custody.
“Messiah is still in custody at the Fulton County Jail,” the GoFundMe page states. “He is being charged with eluding/flee police and driving without a license. His court hearing is today at 2 pm.”
Mary Papenfuss contributed reporting.