On Saturday, April 21st 2018, anti-racist and anti-fascist activists protested a hate rally in Newnan, GA.
Our Copwatch teams directly observed the protest, and what we documented is far different from the story the police have told.
- Police claim that activists were arrested for wearing masks, but we have video showing several of those charged with "wearing a mask" were completely unmasked.
- Police claim that activists were blocking the street, but our documentation shows activists repeatedly pulled off the sidewalk into the street and then arrested.
- Police claim that activists "pushed" officers, but the only pushing we witnessed was the result of police charging into crowds, forcing people to jostle against each other.
- Several of the arrests were so obviously unfounded that the police were forced to release the activists that same day without charge.
Especially concerning was the violent arrest of one of our camerapeople, Andrew. He was at the protest not as a participant but as a legal observer, documenting police activity. He was clearly marked as an observer, and was careful to break no laws.
Unfortunately, Newnan police seemed uncomfortable with being recorded, because they specifically targeted Andrew for arrest. Without warning, they dragged him off the sidewalk and threw him forcefully to the pavement, injuring him. He was held in handcuffs and his backpack and camera were illegally searched. Once the protesters had left the area, he was released without charge. This hostility towards freedom of the press and transparency should be very troubling.
We observed a pattern of excessive use of force. Captain Warren Campbell is quoted as saying "Pointing a rifle into the group was a reasonable amount of force given the circumstances"
But Sheriff Mike Yeager describes those circumstances as protesters who "refuse to take off their masks, push officers, and stand in the roadway".
Even if these accusations were all true, none of them would justify the use of deadly weapons. It is highly unusual for police to hold people at gunpoint to enforce jaywalking laws, and it's concerning that the police see such force as "reasonable".
Campbell also says "Based on reports, we weren't entirely sure if they were armed", but there is no indication that anyone arrested was armed, nor was anyone charged with weapon-related offenses. As seen in police statements to the media leading up to the rally, police had worked themselves and the public into a panic about armed, violent troublemakers. This culminated in officers treating unarmed civilians as a deadly threat.
Similarly, claims about supposed dangerous contraband are questionable. Police have presented a bottle containing "liquid antacid and water" or "LAW" as evidence of malicious intent, but "LAW" is a harmless home remedy. It's unclear why items like this were enough to convince officers that their lives were in danger.
It's always common to find a few descrepancies between official reports and our documentation on the ground, and it's common for officers to occasionally make mistakes in enforcing the law. However in this case we see a pattern of false and misleading statements made by police representatives, and we documented many unjustified arrests, all similar. We believe this clearly shows that the police engaged in a deliberate campaign to suppress anti-racist protests in Newnan.