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Police move in after fights break out during Georgia protest

A man falls after being struck during a clash between protesters Saturday in Stone Mountain, Ga.
A man falls after being struck during a clash between protesters Saturday in Stone Mountain, Ga. Several dozen people waving Confederate flags, many wearing military gear, faced off against a few hundred counterprotesters, many of whom wore shirts or carried signs expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

After several hours of mostly peaceful demonstrations Saturday in an Atlanta suburb that’s home to a giant Confederate memorial, large numbers of police moved in to disperse the crowds when fights broke out.

Several dozen right-wing demonstrators, some waving the Confederate battle flag and many wearing military gear, gathered in downtown Stone Mountain, Ga., where they faced off against a few hundred counterprotesters, many of whom wore shirts or carried signs expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. People in both groups carried rifles. For several hours, there was little visible police presence and things were largely peaceful, aside from some shoving and pushing and spirited arguments.

But just before 1 p.m., fights broke out, with people punching and kicking one another and throwing rocks. That’s when police officers in riot gear moved in to disperse the crowds.

By 2 p.m., almost all of the protesters had left the area.

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Right-wing groups led by an Arkansas outfit called Confederate States III% had applied for a permit to hold a rally in Stone Mountain Park, where there’s a giant sculpture of Confederate leaders carved into the mountainside. The event was planned as a response to a peaceful march in the park of mostly Black protesters, many carrying rifles, on July 4.

But the Stone Mountain Memorial Assn. denied the permit on Aug. 4, citing a violent clash between groups in April 2016, spokesman John Bankhead said. The park closed to visitors Saturday and was set to reopen Sunday.

With police manning barriers to keep people from entering the park, demonstrators took to the streets of the adjoining town of Stone Mountain, which on Friday had advised visitors to stay away, residents to stay home and businesses to shut down Saturday.

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The demonstrators on July 4, numbering as many as 200, spoke out against the huge sculpture depicting Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Carved into a granite mountain, the bas-relief sculpture is the largest Confederate monument ever crafted.

Although the park has historically been a gathering spot for white supremacists, the town of Stone Mountain has a majority-Black population today.

Stone Mountain Park markets itself as a family theme park rather than a shrine to the “Lost Cause” mythology that romanticizes the Confederacy. It’s a popular recreation spot for many families on the east side of Atlanta, with hiking trails, a golf course, boat rentals and other attractions. The park has long been known for its laser light shows, but those have been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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