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Tasing Of Two College Students In Atlanta Provokes More Outrage Amid Protests


A city that was already rocked by protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and then over the weekend, something happened right here that added fuel to the rage. Two college kids - 20-year-old Spelman student Teniyah Pilgrim and 22-year-old Morehouse student Messiah Young - confronted by Atlanta police, pulled from their car, tased. Pilgrim talked about it at a press conference on Monday.


TENIYAH PILGRIM: I just can't stop thinking about if cameras weren't there or if they would have went a little bit further. I can't stop thinking about what could have happened. Like, it's all that keeps crossing my mind. And we felt like we were going to die in that car.

KELLY: We wanted to understand what exactly happened, what has happened since and what that tells us about how events are unfolding here in Atlanta. So we have come to the spot in downtown Atlanta where it happened, and we've arranged to meet Emily Green of WABE. She has been tracking this story. Hey, Emily.


KELLY: Would you just situate us? What happened here on Saturday night?

GREEN: What happened Saturday night is that Teniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young went out to get food. And as they came across this intersection, they were stopped by the police. And the police told them to move on if they didn't want to get arrested. They moved on, and then the police chased them. And then the police tased them repeatedly and dragged them from their cars. There's a lot of footage out there, and it's full of screams.

KELLY: You can see the police bashing in the...

GREEN: Right. Yeah.

KELLY: ...Car window with a baton.

GREEN: And they dragged Messiah also from the car, all the meanwhile tasing him repeatedly.

KELLY: So we know two of the police officers were fired the very next day. We learned just yesterday that a total of six are facing charges. What are the charges that they are facing?

GREEN: Five of the six officers are facing charges of aggravated assault and other assortment of charges. One is facing a charge of damage to property. And District Attorney Paul Howard tells me they could face five to eight years in prison. It's also worth noting that they could be released after one year or even just get a sentence of probation.

KELLY: I'm contrasting this to the case of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where there was a whole lot of criticism for how long it took to bring charges against the cop who held his knee against George Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Here, the charges came much faster. Do we know why? And is this DA that you've been talking to, is he getting props for that?

GREEN: That might be going too far. I think there is a sense of relief that charges are being brought so quickly, but also some cynicism. And the reason that I say that is because Paul Howard has a reputation of not going after police officers. And, in fact, last year he was called before the Atlanta City Council to explain why at least 20 investigations into officer-involved shootings had languished. And on the final note, he is facing an extremely stiff reelection campaign in just six days. And...

KELLY: He's up for reelection six days from today.

GREEN: He's up for reelection. And it's been a very stiff campaign - not clear that he is going to win that. And a lot of folks are wondering, is this just a political move to win votes?

KELLY: To circle us back to why this has sparked such outrage here in Atlanta, the timing - people were in the streets protesting police brutality against people of color, and here appears to be another case of police brutality against young people of color. How is that playing into the conversation into the protests here in Atlanta? What are people telling you?

GREEN: People are telling me that this plays into a larger trend of excessive use of force by police, including during these protests, and that there is a systemic problem of racism, of course, across this country, but specifically in Atlanta. So yes, it's a sense of horror, but not necessarily surprise.

KELLY: Emily Green of WABE here in Atlanta, thank you for your reporting.

GREEN: Thanks so much.

KELLY: And we should note Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields is among those saying the charges against the officers are political. In an email to her department last night, Shields wrote that she will not, quote, "sit quietly by and watch our employees get swept up in the tsunami of political jockeying during an election year." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Green (WABE)
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