The black mayor pro tem of Carrollton, Georgia, was collecting pine cones in a city park for an art project with special needs children when a white man threatened him with a dog and warned him to leave. Gerald Byrd tells Lead Stories he has no plan to prosecute the man, and instead he hopes the incident will help his white friends and constituents understand what black citizens must endure.
The town, home to the University of West Georgia, prides itself for its relative progressiveness -- compared to the surrounding rural communities -- but that image was shattered when Byrd began streaming video on Facebook Live while the man was still standing near him.
"A man just appeared out of nowhere with a baby and a stroller and asked me what was I doing here," Byrd told his Facebook friends. The tensions escalated as the man insisted that Byrd leave the public park. The man then took his German Shepherd from the back of his truck and threatened Byrd again, he said.
"I stopped for a moment and asked myself, 'Is this what happened when people who innocently lost their lives, who were harmed, is this what happened to them?'" Byrd said in his live video. "This is sad people we need to wake up and we need to stop it."
The man was still standing there watching with his dog as Byrd spoke. He could later be seen driving away in his truck with the dog in the truck bed.
Byrd spoke to the Carrollton police chief while the incident was under way, but he asked the chief not to respond. "Police want to do something about it," he tells Lead Stories.
But Byrd believes he can bring more awareness by talking about it without having the man criminally prosecuted. "It would just make folks even madder," he said. Byrd said he can't count all of the threats he's received since posting his Facebook video. He said he's been told "you better watch out" and asked to take the video down. Maybe now his many white friends will stop telling him, as they have "for years and years" that racism in Carrollton is "just your imagination," he said.
Byrd, who has served on Carrollton's city council for 15 years, recounted other recent racial incidents targeting him, including one at a fast food drive-thru. A white man in a pick up truck yelled racial slurs at him while "banging on his steering wheel," he said. Police detained the man in that incident, but Byrd declined to prosecute.
Byrd, 44, needed pine cones for a Christmas decoration project for special needs children at the "Art for All" center he founded and runs in downtown Carrollton.