Mayor Van Johnson today confirmed that he, along with other members of City Council and community leaders, will attend the protest
scheduled for tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Johnson Square. (The protest was originally called the Black Lives Matter protest; its name has since been changed to the Savannah George Floyd protest.)
The protest quickly garnered speculation on social media after community activist leaders shared that they hadn't been consulted to assist in organization.
Johnson confirmed his attendance, but he spoke strongly against any rioting or destruction.
"Please let me make myself absolutely clear: we will not let you or anyone else come here and trash our city. We are not having it here," said Johnson.
"To residents of Savannah, Chatham County and surrounding areas attending the rally tomorrow, I'd like to welcome you to Savannah to participate in this peaceful protest, which I will be attending along with members of our community, and members of our council. Please note, there is no need to bring milk. Milk is only good in cereal."
The milk statement is a nod to the original flyer for the protest, which encouraged attendees to bring milk, ostensibly to help ease the pain if tear gas were to be deployed. A second flyer excluding the suggestion of bringing milk was created and circulated. Johnson encouraged protestors not to turn to violence, but said they are prepared if that does happen.
Johnson said that attempts to contact the organizer were unsuccessful.
"Legitimate people do legitimate things," said Johnson. "We have enough peaceful protests we have out here that we're fully aware of, but we respect the right to protest."
Johnson encouraged anyone attending from out of town to support businesses who have taken the Savannah Safe pledge, and he reminded people that in spite of everything going on, we're still in a pandemic that requires caution.
"I have my mask. They have their mask," he said. "I'll be social distancing. If we're going to do this, we need to do it right."
Johnson also spoke about his experience as a black man and the pain he feels at seeing a black man killed by a police officer. He shared that he, too, has had negative experiences with law enforcement.
"If I don't have a suit on, if Chief Minter doesn't have a suit on, if Detric Leggett doesn't have a suit on: we are black men," said Johnson, "and I've had moments with police officers who did not know who I was and did not care."
Johnson wrapped up the presser with a reminder that the Savannah Police Department is still recruiting for officers.
"If you don't like what's going on, do like I did: become a police officer. That's how we change what's happening," he said. "You take the oath and you serve your community. And when you're faced with those situations, you remember what you hated about that Floyd situation and you treat people better."