SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Mayor Van Johnson held a press conference Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m. to discuss local planned demonstrations relating to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The press conference came after protests across the nation escalated over the past few days. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency in Fulton County after protests in Atlanta turned violent Friday.
Johnson called the death of Floyd “a horrendous act by someone who swore to serve and protect.” He said he understands the outrage people are feeling.
“As a black man who has had negative encounters with rogue police officers, I also join those mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children who are afraid of encountering the police,” Johnson said.
The mayor said that though he understands the anger people are feeling right now, he believes violent, destructive behavior is “illegal, unacceptable, and creates more unfavorable interactions with law enforcement, and takes the focus from where it needs to be… justice.”
Johnson, who is former law enforcement himself, made it clear that he does not think all officers are bad. He said police officers often work a thankless job, “working long hours and doing the best they can.”
He said Savannah Police Department (SPD) officers specifically are committed to treating others with courtesy, professionalism, and respect “regardless of color, age, race, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability.”
The mayor said it is the few who tarnish the hard-earned respect of the many in law enforcement.
Johnson then addressed local demonstrations relating to Floyd’s death.
On Friday, a modest group peacefully gathered in downtown Savannah, but a larger protest has been planned on social media. The demonstration is set for Sunday at 2 p.m. in Johnson Square.
Some social media users questioned the event’s legitimacy. The organizer of Sunday’s demonstration claimed to be associated with Black Lives Matter on social media, but no one was able to confirm this. Johnson cleared up some rumors and said that he and SPD learned that the organizer was not actually associated with Black Lives Matter in any way. The organizer is also white, Johnson said.
However, the mayor said Sunday at 2 p.m. in Johnson Square is a great time to come together and peacefully honor Floyd. He said he will be there and extended the invitation to all Savannahians, other City officials, and local faith leaders.
Johnson said Sunday will be used to honor the life of Floyd, to honor the lives of anyone who has experienced police brutality, and to continue the dialogue within the Savannah community and with SPD Chief Roy Minter.
The mayor said that violence and destruction will not be tolerated on Sunday, or at any time. He said it makes no sense to him why someone would destroy property in their own community.
“Even dogs don’t mess up where they lay their head,” the mayor said.
Johnson warned that anyone from out of town looking to cause trouble on Sunday should stay home.
“Be very clear, we know who you are,” Johnson said. “And please let me make myself absolutely clear. We will not let you, or anyone else, come here and trash our city. We are not having it here. This is where we live. This is where we work. This is where we play. This is where we raise our families.”
Johnson said in a “city full of welcoming beings,” those looking to create chaos are not welcome in Savannah.
The mayor encouraged the community to come out with plenty of water and signs, but assured there is no need for milk, as there will be no tear gas.
“There is no need to bring milk,” Johnson said. “Milk is only good on cereal.”
Johnson asked attendees to remain focused and to avoid joining in with anyone who may be trying to create a violent, hostile situation.
“Please do not let your behavior betray your purpose,” Johnson said.
The mayor said he spoke with Kemp, who offered support if needed. The City Manager has also prepared an emergency order that includes a curfew for Savannah. Johnson said he is “fully prepared to sign it the moment things get out of hand.”
Johnson ended his prepared remarks calling for Savannahians to remain unified and peaceful while calling for justice.
“We are all Savannah, and we are Savannah strong,” Johnson said.