A billboard campaign in Atlanta promoting the message that residents should not run from police officers has been suspended after drawing strong criticism.
The initiative had been organized by the Atlanta Citizen Review Board (ACRB), a body set up by the city council to monitor complaints from residents about police misconduct.
The billboards went up Monday and were ordered to be taken down after a public safety committee meeting Wednesday, according to WGCL-TV.
“To me it seems like we are saying people are doing something wrong by running,” Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms said at the meeting, the Atlanta Journal Citizen reports. “One of the things I will always teach my children is that they have the right to run. It may be ill-advised, but the issue is not with them exercising their rights but the response to them exercising their rights.”
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Samuel Lee Reid, executive director of ACRB, agreed to remove the billboards but stood behind their message.
“I’ve noticed running from Atlanta police officers during an encounter leads to or can lead to citizens being injured,” Reid said. “If you have a problem, if you are afraid, if you are concerned about what you have on you, don’t add to it by running. We know a kid running, pulling up his pants and trying to hold on to his cellphone may be seen as having a weapon.”
“Honestly, when I was growing up, we did the opposite thing,” council member Kwanza Hall said. “When we saw police coming, the rule was to run, especially if you might have been in the right because more than likely you would get into trouble.”
The issues raised by the campaign were seen as particularly controversial due to the recent deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and a man in South Carolina. Both men initially tried to run from officers.
“The person encountered a police officer and was just afraid and just ran, and when he was caught he was beat up,” Sheena Robertson, an ACRB investigator, said of a hypothetical example. “At the end of the day, what he was charged with was obstruction because he ran, not because the officer had probable cause to arrest him in the first place.”
"My concern is that we're sending a message to people that there's something wrong with exercising their constitutional rights,” she said. “There's nothing wrong with running if you're not doing anything wrong. If we're trying to capture people's attention with one slogan, we need to be more thoughtful about what that slogan would be.”