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Demonstrators disrupt Athens mayor's press conference in wake of Georgia nursing student death

Fletcher Page, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATHENS, Ga. — Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz defended local officials’ handling of crime and immigration enforcement in a contentious press conference Wednesday that was frequently interrupted by angry demonstrators.

For roughly 20 minutes, Girtz attempted to outline public safety investments and counter Republicans who have criticized immigration policies at the federal and local level in the wake of last Thursday’s death of nursing student Laken Hope Riley on the University of Georgia campus.

Athens has become the latest flashpoint in a heated national debate over migrants after local police arrested Jose Antonio Ibarra, a Venezuelan whom U.S. authorities say entered the country unlawfully, and charged him with murder in Riley’s death.

“Oftentimes people will wish to ascribe certain things to the Athens community, and I want you to have accurate information,” said Girtz at the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.

Around a dozen demonstrators were present. They held signs that read “blood on your hands” and “justice for Laken.” Some often shouted over Girtz as he tried to speak.

“I was a high school teacher for 22 years, and I got better behavior out of them,” Girtz said at one point, referring to the demonstrators.

 

“We are deeply sorry for this tragedy. Responsibility for this crime rests solely upon the perpetrator,” he added.

Former president Donald Trump, Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Republican representatives were among those critical of Democrats following Riley’s death last Thursday. Athens-Clarke County elected positions are non-partisan, but Girtz is a known progressive politician.

“The blood of Laken Riley is on the hands of Joe Biden, Alejandro Mayorkas, and the government of Athens-Clarke County,” Georgia Rep. Mike Collins (R-Jackson), whose district includes Athens, said last Friday.

Democrats have said Republicans are wrongly politicizing the death. They also have criticized GOP leaders for blocking a bipartisan U.S. Senate bill that would have made it harder for migrants to apply for asylum once they’ve entered the country illegally.

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