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ATLANTA - When the United States erupted in unrest following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968, his hometown of Atlanta was one of the few major cities to maintain relative peace. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms invoked that history in a passionate plea for those protesting the death of George Floyd to go home.
"When Dr. King was assassinated, we didn't do this to our city," Bottoms said Friday night. "If you care about this city, then go home."
Protests in Atlanta over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee into his neck, had turned violent before Bottoms spoke. Police cars were smashed and CNN's headquarters was vandalized as protests shook a city that prides itself as the birthplace of the civil rights movement.
Bottoms addressed the crowds both as a mayor and a mother.
"I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old," Bottoms said, adding that when she saw the Floyd incident, "I hurt like a mother."
When she heard of the potential of protests, Bottoms said, she called her son to find out where he was.
"I said, 'I cannot protect you and black boys shouldn't be out today,' " she said.
Her message to protesters: "You're not going to out-concern me ... about where we are in America. I wear this each and every day."
Leadership 'shining through'
Bottoms' remarks were widely praised.
TJ Ducklo, the Joe Biden campaign's national press secretary, said the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee "has been grateful for Mayor Bottoms' support and counsel since the earliest days of our campaign."
"Her passion, her empathy and her strong and steady leadership are shining through during this difficult moment, and the city of Atlanta is lucky to have her leading the way," Ducklo said.
Georgia Representative Doug Collins, a conservative Republican ally of President Donald Trump, tweeted that the mayor had issued a "strong" statement.
Bottoms, 50, was elected mayor in 2017 and had previously served on the City Council. During a recent interview with The Associated Press before the protest, she spoke of Atlanta as a "special place where people of color are able to break traditional molds and change the landscape of who we are as a country."
Until now, her national profile among Democrats has been eclipsed by fellow Georgian Stacey Abrams, the voting-rights activist who narrowly lost her bid in 2018 to become America's first black female governor.
But Bottoms has engaged in national issues during her time in City Hall. She was among the big-city mayors to blast President Donald Trump's immigration policies, and she ended the city jail's contract with federal immigration enforcement.
She's leading the U.S. Conference of Mayors' efforts on the census and housing policy.