Hundreds gather peacefully in downtown Savannah to protest George Floyd death

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Protesters and city leaders gathered peacefully in downtown Savannah Sunday afternoon to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The demonstration followed protests across the state and country, some peaceful, and some violent. Mayor Van Johnson made it clear in a press conference Saturday that violence and destruction would not be tolerated at Sunday’s gathering.

Protesters made their way from Johnson Square to City Hall, where Johnson spoke to them, calling for justice and encouraging peace. The crowd then dispersed and gathered in Ellis Square, where more people spoke and chanted.

Protesters remain in Ellis Square Sunday evening, though demonstrations started winding down in the late afternoon.

The National Guard was in the area all day, but did not have to intervene, as protesters remained non-violent. Officials say 103 Guardsmen remain in the city. News 3 has not heard of any major incidents as of 6 p.m. Sunday.

Governor Brian Kemp’s office said the National Guard and local law enforcement are still alert after hearing reports of some protesters placing bags of bricks and wood around Savannah’s squares.

As a precaution, Johnson issued a citywide curfew in effect from 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. nightly while necessary.

“We have experienced a great day of peaceful demonstrations, necessary dialogue, unity and solidarity,” Johnson said. “We want to continue to ensure the safety of our citizens, visitors and the protection of property. This is an uncomfortable, but necessary step in making that happen.”

WSAV brought you live coverage on air and online. Watch a recap above and see Sunday’s events further broken down below.


4 p.m.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – From the roof of Sorry Charlie’s downtown, protesters can be seen around Ellis Square and the surrounding streets.

Governor Brian Kemp’s office told News 3’s Kelly Antonacci that they are hearing reports of protesters placing backpacks full of bricks and wood around Savannah’s squares.

They say similar moves were made in Charleston, where protests turned destructive and violent. Kemp’s office says protesters from Charleston are in town, and local law enforcement is keeping an eye out for buses of out-of-town protesters moving in Sunday evening.

Kemp’s office says they are working with GEMA to strategically place National Guard around the city.

Meanwhile at the WSAV studio, Former Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson joined Tina Tyus-Shaw to discuss Sunday’s protests.

Jackson said she has seen violent protesters bring bricks, wood, and more to tear up a city before. She weighed in on Kemp’s warning, saying that destruction is not the way to make a change.

“Enjoy us, but don’t destroy us,” Jackson said.

Hear more from Jackson and Tyus-Shaw below.


3:30 p.m.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Protesters moved from City Hall to Ellis Square Sunday afternoon, where they gathered and listened to people talk over speakers.

JoAnn Merrigan spoke with Savannah native Henry Lee Perry, who says he came out to support the cause and to support his city.

“We can all sit out here without breaking down windows, freaking out, cars, turning them over,” Perry said. “This is Savannah. This is true Savannah.”

Merrigan reports about 200 people were in Ellis Square after crowds dispersed from City Hall. Perry says he expects people to continue gathering for a few hours. Mayor Van Johnson earlier asked protesters to go home this evening.


3 p.m.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – After hearing from Mayor Van Johnson, protesters began to move away from City Hall, marching down Bay Street.

Alex Bozarjian and Kelly Antonacci report that the crowd was chanting and still carrying signs, but remained peaceful.

Despite there being no violence, some business owners were seen boarding up their doors. Others have said they plan to close early tonight.


2:45 p.m.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah Mayor Van Johnson spoke to protesters in front of City Hall, calling for justice and asking the crowd to remain peaceful.

“Because we love our city, we are not going to let anyone come to our home and trash our home, nobody,” Johnson said.

The crowd remained non-violent and cheered as the mayor spoke. One person passed out due to the heat during Johnson’s speech. EMS responded, and the person is alright.

The mayor said the City of Savannah will not stand for injustice.

“This is a moment,” Johnson said. “What happens tomorrow is a movement.”

He also called on the community to respect police officers, saying not all of them are bad.

The mayor then announced that he is introducing a task force to look at data and examine “every single disparity that exists in Savannah, be it economics, be it health, be it social, be it police.”

“We’re going to let the data drive us to where we need to be,” Johnson said.


2:30 p.m.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A crowd of hundreds of protesters has made its way to Savannah’s City Hall, where participants will hear from multiple speakers this afternoon.

Kelly Antonacci is in front of City Hall and reports that the crowd stretches all the way back to Johnson Square and beyond. She says there are multiple city leaders on site today, including Mayor Van Johnson and Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter.

Alex Bozarjian is also on Bay Street, between Whitaker and Bull Streets, where the Georgia National Guard is currently at. Guardsmen appear to just be keeping an eye on things, Bozarjian reports.

Governor Brian Kemp offered his support to the City of Savannah on Saturday, saying the National Guard is ready to help at any point.

Roads in the area are closed to traffic, and drivers should seek an alternate route.


2:15 p.m.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Hundreds of people are now making their way through downtown Savannah in protest of the death of George Floyd.

WSAV’s JoAnn Merrigan was in Johnson Square when the march began. She spoke with three city leaders, District 2 Alderman Detric Leggett, District 4 Alderman Nick Palumbo, and District 6 Kurtis Purtee.

Purtee, who has a long history in law enforcement, said today’s march has been good, but admitted it has been difficult for him.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 19 years, and I know we can do a better job than what we’re doing now,” Purtee said.

Leggett told News 3 that so far, no violence has erupted. He said the demonstration has remained peaceful and said he is working to make sure everyone stays hydrated.

“We take care of our friends, our family, and our neighbors,” Legett said.


2 p.m.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Dozens of people are already gathered in Johnson Square, getting ready to march towards Ellis Square.

News 3’s Kelly Antonacci reports that chanting had already started before the 2 p.m. protest start time.

Dozens of people are carrying signs, and some are wearing face masks.

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