Gov. Brian Kemp extended an order Monday that deployed 1,000 Georgia National Guard troops to protect state buildings in Atlanta, the latest step in a series of escalating tensions with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over safety and public health.
Kemp’s new order, which expires July 27, seemed likely to draw criticism from Bottoms, a Democrat who earlier urged the governor to focus state resources on responding to soaring numbers of coronavirus cases in Georgia.
The governor, a Republican, initially signed the order July 6 after threatening to “take action” following a burst of violence across the city that included the shooting death of an 8-year-old girl and the ransacking of the headquarters of the Georgia State Patrol in southeast Atlanta.
The troops were dispatched to three state government sites in the city: the state Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion in Buckhead and the Department of Public Safety building, which had been vandalized by a group of at least 60 people.
At the time, the governor said he had little other choice but to call in reinforcements, and his order cast the step as “necessary and appropriate to protect public peace and provide for the safety and welfare of Georgia’s citizens, visitors and property.”
Bottoms backed Kemp’s decision in late May to call out the National Guard after largely peaceful protests for racial justice turned violent. She told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, however, that she staunchly opposed redeploying troops last week to protect state buildings.
“It’s a terrible visual to have military tanks on our streets. It has the potential to further inflame this already very tense situation. I personally think it’s overkill,” she said in a recent interview. “But don’t blame that on Atlanta. Call it what it is — you want to protect your buildings.”
The governor extended the order hours before his authorization was set to expire, and after days of little unrest in Atlanta’s streets. Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, the Georgia National Guard’s adjutant general, reported a “peaceful” atmosphere last week, and it appears no arrests were made.
Kemp’s decision also came on the same day Bottoms appeared on a virtual conference call with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who criticized Kemp’s response and offered to send a team of experts to Georgia.
The governor and the mayor of Georgia’s capital city have never been close personal allies, and Kemp’s move last week to deploy the troops triggered escalating tension between them.
They’ve since clashed over Bottoms’ signing of a mask mandate over the governor’s objections and her announcement of new economic limits in the city to contain the coronavirus that Kemp says are unenforceable.
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