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Mayor, Police Chief Apologize, Announce Firings of Two Officers for Violent Arrest of Pair of Atlanta College Students

Two Atlanta police officers were fired after video footage showed them violently snatching two Black college students out of a vehicle.

The incident occurred on Saturday, May 30 in downtown Atlanta, during the city’s enforcement of a 9 p.m. curfew following protests the day before over the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Videos captured by a news team and an officer’s body camera showed a car stopped in the middle of the street on Saturday, day two of the protests. Messiah Young, 22, a Morehouse College student, was driving with 20-year-old Spelman College student Teniyah Pilgrim in the passenger’s seat.

Two Atlanta police officers were fired and three more were placed on desk duty after the violent arrests of Teniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young went viral. (Photo: Screenshot/Breaking911/Twitter)

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields reviewed body-camera video from the incident and moved, after determining excessive use of force, to fire the officers and place three others on desk duty.

During the Saturday incident, officers demanded the two get out and broke out windows to gain entry. A screaming Pilgrim was tased, grabbed by an officer and carried off-screen. Meanwhile, another officer deployed a stun gun that hit Young. The young man’s body convulsed and his eyes rolled back before he was also removed from the car. Both were arrested. Pilgrim was released from custody Saturday; Young was released Sunday.

The arrest went viral and drew angry messages on social media, namely from people associated with the Atlanta University Center, of which both institutions are a part.

“Morehouse College appreciates the swift action that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took against the Atlanta Police Department officers involved in the incident,” D. Aileen Dodd, senior manager of Media and Public Relations at Morehouse, told Atlanta Black Star in an email. “Her response sends a clear message that the use of excessive force was not warranted and will not be tolerated in such cases.”

Dodd added, “Our student is recovering from the trauma that he faced during the incident. Our Division of Student Services is in communication with the student and his family to offer our support.” Young and his father along with Pilgrim, spoke on the incident during a June 1 news conference at Morehouse College. An attorney representing Young said the two were on their way to pick up food when they got caught in the protest traffic. He added that Young faces charges — he didn’t specify what kind — from his arrest; they’re charges Mayor Bottoms says she has ordered to be dropped.

The conference followed a letter signed May 31 by the presidents of Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College and Morehouse School of Medicine.

“It is clear that the behavior of law enforcement in this country must change,” the letter read.

“Incidents like the one last night and the many events of police violence (recorded and unrecorded) leading up to today heighten the urgency of this need for change,” the message stated. “And we support our students as champions and activists on behalf of change.”

An officer at the scene told a WXIA-TV 11Alive reporter that Young and Pilgrim were detained because Young did not comply when an officer signaled him to stop the car. The officer also claimed he reached for something in his pocket.

On Sunday, May 31, Mayor Bottoms apologized for the arrest and announced two officers were fired for the incident. 11Alive identified them as Investigator Ivory Streeter and Investigator Mark Gardner. Streeter reportedly had been with APD since December 2003, and Gardner since August 1997.

“I share (the officers’ firings) with you because that is what you will see happen each and every day with the city of Atlanta going forward,” Bottoms said during a press conference on Sunday. “Our attitudes toward how we not only police our communities, but how we respond to policing our communities has to change.”

Pilgrim shared during Monday’s press conference that she has spoken to the mayor about her experience.

Police Chief Shields expressed empathy for her officers, but implored them to police responsibly.

“These folks are going out every day, they are getting pelted with rocks, knives thrown at them, ongoing gun shots, it really is an unpleasant space to be in. But that does not relieve us of our responsibilities,” Shields said. “And we have a responsibility, when we handle any incident, not to escalate the incident and not to cause further harm or injury.”

She added, “I am genuinely sorry. This is not what we are about.”

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