On Saturday night, a viral video showed authorities in Atlanta using excessive force to pull two people from a car during protests over the death of George Floyd. The bodycam video has since ignited further conversations on police responding to protests across the country. As a result, six police officers involved have now been charged.
The harrowing footage includes multiple police bodycams and shows Messiah Young and his girlfriend, Taniyah Pilgrim, forcibly removed from a car as it sat in standstill traffic. Prior to approaching the car, video shows officers taking another man into custody alongside a line of stopped vehicles before approaching Young and Pilgrim. Police attempted to open the passenger door, shouting orders at both Young and Pilgrim to get out of the car. Pilgrim, who is visibly scared and upset, attempts to get out of the car before an officer uses a stun gun on her, after which she pleads them to stop as they forcibly pull her out.
Young, in the driver's seat, is approached by different officers who break his side window and immediately tase him. As he is being tased, officers shout at him to get out of the car and to “get your hand out of your pockets.” Brief glimpses in the footage show that Young does not have his hands in his pockets. Police shout: “He got a gun. He got a gun. He got a gun,” as officers drag Young out of the car and onto the ground before zip-tying his hands behind his back.
Both Young and Pilgrim were arrested and police reports of the incident do not list a gun among either of their possessions.
Atlanta officials have since moved to rectify the situation with charges against the officers involved. Among the officers involved, a number of which are not specifically named for their actions in the video, Investigators Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner, were fired on Sunday as a result of the arrests.
Both are currently being charged with aggravated assault, and two other officers face the same charges. One officer is being charged with aggravated battery, and remaining officers were each charged with criminal damage to property as well as pointing or aiming a gun. However, not all of the officers that were charged appear to be fired — police reports confirm that, so far, only Streeter and Gardner were relinquished from their duties, while, according to Time, three of the officers involved are now on desk duty.
On Tuesday, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced that arrest warrants have been issued for Streeter, Gardner, Lonnie Wood, Willie Sauls, Armond Jones, and Roland Claud.
In a news conference, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Pilgrim was released without charges and that charges against Young will be immediately dropped. “As we watch the video today, it became abundantly clear immediately with the young woman that this force was excessive,” Bottoms said in a statement released on Sunday. “It also became abundantly clear that the officer who tased the young man needed to be terminated as well.”
Atlanta police chief Erika Shields reviewed the footage with Bottoms. “When wrong is wrong, we have to, as law enforcement, start dealing with it in the same manner that we would deal with it with non-law enforcement,” Shields said at Sunday’s news conference. “For some reason, we’ve fallen into this grey area where there’s a separate set of rules for law enforcement, and if we want to get out of this space that we’re in now we have to change how we manage internally.”
Young and Pilgrim have since spoken out about the incident and condemned the Atlanta officers for their unlawful actions — especially at a time when so many are combating police brutality across the country. “I feel a little safer now that these monsters are off the street and no longer able to terrorise anyone else,” Young said at another news conference on Tuesday.
All officers involved have until the end of the day on 5th June to surrender. A $10,000 (£7,000) bail has been set for all six officers.