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Columbus NAACP joins statewide protest against police-related shootings of black males

NAACP Columbus president Tonza Thomas arrested

Local NAACP president, along with community activist Marquese "Skinny" Averett, were arrested by Columbus police for leading a march that blocked Veterans Parkway at 10th Street. About 70 people gathered at the Government Center, marched through d
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Local NAACP president, along with community activist Marquese "Skinny" Averett, were arrested by Columbus police for leading a march that blocked Veterans Parkway at 10th Street. About 70 people gathered at the Government Center, marched through d

The Georgia NAACP called for a “Day of Protest” today in the wake of police-related shootings in Charlotte, N.C., and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"This Day of Protest is organized in cities across Georgia from Columbus to Augusta and Athens to Albany to lift up common sense policy solutions that will improve police-community relations; propose new state legislation that would amend sovereign immunity laws thus bringing greater accountability to law enforcement, “ said Georgia NAACP State President Francys Johnson in a news release, “and creating a safe space for the public grieving of lives lost to an all too familiar American narrative that begins with this phrase: An unarmed African American was shot to death in a police encounter."

Tonza Thomas, president of the Columbus branch of the NAACP, said the local group will participate in the state effort and extend the public demonstrations to a full weekend. The protests will begin today with a 6:30 p.m. press conference outside of the Public Safety Building, Thomas said, and continue from 7 p.m. to midnight with an open mic for people to express their views about the recent shootings.

“At midnight, we’re going to do a prayer, and it’s a symbolic prayer,” she said. “We’re praying that after a day of peaceful protest that we all return home safely and not die by the hands of a cop.”

Thomas said the statewide protests are part of a 10-city tour that will be held in Atlanta, Columbus, Augusta, Athens and Albany. From those five locations, five other cities will participate. The Columbus NAACP will be joined by the LaGrange and Troup County NAACPs tonight, she said.

On Saturday, the local NAACP will hold a voter registration drive at Antioch Baptist Church from 11 a.m to 2 p.m., Thomas said. After that, some NAACP members will walk to Citizens Trust Bank as part of a “Unity Saturday” to support black-owned businesses. At 3 p.m., there will be another voter registration drive at the House of Ma’at, a black-owned business recently destroyed by fire.

On Sunday, the NAACP will end the protest with a “Day of Prayer” at the Metropolitan Baptist Church during the 11 a.m. service. The title of the service is “Don’t Get Excited, Get Ignited. Get out to Vote,” Thomas said.

“We’re just trying to take it to a different level,” she said. “We’ve been in the street protesting for years about the killing of unarmed African American men. We’ve been on the street for years trying to keep peace in our community by not dying at each other’s hands. The one thing we have as a sure-fire way to end this senseless violence on both sides is to get out there and change the laws.

“We can’t change the laws if aren’t voting. We can’t change the laws if we’re not speaking to state legislators,” she said. “So tonight will be centered around peace on the street and peace on the beat.”

The most recent protests are in response to the shootings of the two men in Tulsa and Charlotte, local organizers said.

Terence Crutcher, 40, was shot by a Tulsa police officer on Sept. 16 while standing next to his broken-down car, according to news reports. The officer who allegedly shot him has been charged with manslaughter, a prosecutor said.

On Tuesday, Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was shot by police while waiting for his son outside an apartment complex in Charlotte. The incident ignited protests that resulted in the death of a protester.

The protest in Atlanta is expected to draw thousands to the Center for Civil and Human Rights by 6 p.m. on Friday, according to the news release issued by the Georgia NAACP. But the protest route is not being publicly released “due to threats by right-wing extremists claiming to support law enforcement.”

"We support those who exercise the right to peacefully protest, and encourage the first amendment right to call for redress of wrongs,” said Johnson. “We stand against efforts that undermine the legitimate calls for justice with unjust, random or purposeless acts of violence.”

However, the organization condemns the violence towards peaceful officers, including reports of attacks in Georgia, Johnson said.

"The NAACP condemns this violence,” he said. “It is antithetical to our core values as Americans. Change must come to policing in America but it cannot and will not come at the end of a barrel of a gun.”

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter

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