ATLANTA -- Mayor Maynard Jackson ordered the city under a one- night 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew Thursday after a rally called to protest the acquittal of four Los Angeles policemen in the beating of a black man turned violent and gangs of black youths rampaged through downtown Atlanta, throwing rocks, breaking windows, overturning cars and looting. At least 37 people were injured.
Another rally was reported under way at Clark Atlanta University. Earlier in the day, gangs split off from a rally held at the tomb of Martin Luther King Jr., ran through the Underground Atlanta entertainment complex, turning over carts and flower pots and looting, witnesses reported. 'A few busloads' of people were arrested, a police spokesman said.
As the violence escalated, shops in Underground Atlanta closed for the day. A car belonging to Gov. Zell Miller's executive assistant was overturned and heavily damaged near the Capitol.
State police in riot gear ringed the Capitol building but state offices were not closed.
Police and sheriff's deputies moved into the downtown area and blocked off streets to all traffic in an effort to gain control of the situation.
Police said they had no official reports of injuries but a spokesman at Grady Memorial Hospital said 21 people were treated at the facility, mostly for minor injuries. One person, a 45-year-old man from Stone Mountain, Ga., suffered a serious head injuyr and was in critical condition in the intensive care unit, said spokesman Jim Driscoll.
Some of the rioters entered Macy's department store, smashed windows and inflicted other damage. Some motorists were accosted in the streets.
The violence prompted one suburban transit company serving downtown Atlanta to suspend service. Cobb Community Transit said that effective immediately it was stopping express bus service to and from downtown Atlanta.
'Until Atlanta police give the all clear, service will not resume,' the company said.
Earlier at the rally, Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Mayor Jackson demanded that the federal government prosecute the Los Angeles police officers who were acquitted of the beating of black motorist Rodney King. An estimated 300-400 people attended the peaceful demonstration which turned violent as the rally broke up.
'I am absolutely stunned, I'm almost speechless that such a travesty of justice has occurred in the United States,' said Lowery in a prepared statement on the Los Angeles acquittal. 'I must be dreaming and this is happening in Johannesburg, South Africa.
'What this jury has done is to give license, affirmation, and encouragement to every trigger-happy, brutal police officer in this country to brutalize, to savagely beat black people and expect impunity. But it just begins with black people and it will go on to anybody, because you can't contain or restrict this kind of outlaw behavior, this type of lawless beating just to blacks.'
Both Lowery and black Congressman John Lewis, who represents the Atlanta area, called on the Justice Department and President Bush to investigate the verdict and consider 'the possibility of prosecuting these officers for violating the civil rights of Rodney King.' Lowery also said there should be a probe of possible jury tampering.
Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell said he was concerned about the 'message' the verdict might send to the law enforcement community.
Lowery urged that there be 'no violent reaction to this terribly violent verdict. But that we would engage in nonviolent protest.'
He compared the jury verdict to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision of 1857 'when the court said that black people have absolutely no rights which white people are bound to respect and this jury has said the same thing.'