ATLANTA (Reuters) - New billboards advising Atlanta residents to “Stay Calm, Don’t Run” during encounters with law enforcement drew rebuke this week from City Council members and police who say the campaign sends the wrong message.
The ads appearing on 20 billboards feature a stick figure of a running man, which appears inside a crossed-out red circle.
The campaign was developed by a city-funded public safety agency in response to several officer-involved deaths that have led to increased scrutiny of police use of force in the United States, particularly against young black men.
Members of the Atlanta City Council, who were not consulted, want to pull the plug on the campaign, saying it tells residents not to exercise their rights under the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable stops and searches.
The message also suggests the victim is to blame, City Council member Yolanda Adrean told a committee meeting on Tuesday.
“This is not about people running,” she said. “This is about the people who are shooting at the people who are running.”
The campaign was created by the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, an independent agency that reviews complaints made against law enforcement. It aimed to keep police officers and citizens safe, according to executive director Lee Reid.
“Just watch the news. We know from experience that running (from police) can lead to injury and death,” he said.
Earlier this year in the Atlanta area, 27-year-old Anthony Hill was naked and acting strangely when police said he ran at an officer, despite orders to stop. He was fatally shot by police.
Running from police has long been standard practice in many disenfranchised communities, said Atlanta council member Kwanza Hall, who grew up in the city.
“Whenever we saw the police coming, the rule was to run, especially if you might have been in the right, because more than likely you still might get in trouble.”
Atlanta police union President Ken Allen said police also wanted the signs taken down.
“The signs are telling me that police are coming to slaughter you if you run,” he said.
Reid said the signs would stay up until he gets a formal order to remove them.
Editing by Letitia Stein and Peter Cooney