Savannah, Ga., clergy demand mayor’s resignation, dash cam video in police killing of Black man 

"I don’t know what city they’re living in," Mayor Van Johnson said of the protesters, "but police reform is something we’re doing every day."

Georgia activists, community members and clergy are calling for the resignation of Savannah Mayor Van Johnson in the wake of the police killing of Saudi Arai Lee, a Black man who was shot by a Savannah police officer on June 24. 

Lee, 31, was the sixth man shot by police in Chatham County this year.

“The mayor don’t do anything about reforming his police department,” Elder James Johnson said at a press conference Saturday before a march to City Hall, according to The Savannah Morning News. “Then he needs to resign or he needs to be voted out. Just as simple as that.”

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson is shown during a May rally in Johnson Square in Savannah, Georgia. (Photo: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News/USA TODAY NETWORK)

A vocal group of 20-plus protesters marched two miles from Savannah’s historic Carver Village to City Hall, chanting “Van’s got to go.”

However, Mayor Johnson said of the protesters: “I don’t know what city they’re living in, but police reform is something we’re doing every day.” 

Johnson said some reforms have included raising the base pay for officers to $50,000 and the creation of a behavioral health unit that helps people who are under mental distress or suffering from mental illness. The city has also created an Office for Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. 

However, Johnson pointed out other killings in the city, saying, “Black lives taken by Black lives in our streets need to matter, as well.” Of police shootings, the mayor said, “If any of our officers are liable, we will hold them accountable to the highest extent of the law.”

But members of the Carver Village community in west Savannah note that Lee was unarmed and had a concealed weapons permit, which he showed to police. According to the authorities’ official report, after a short chase, Lee was shot by Officer Ernest Ferguson — who residents say has a history of harassing Black men.

“I’ve seen so many videos of him dragging people, throwing people up against the wall,” Lee’s uncle, Timothy Lee, contended.

Officer Ferguson is on paid administrative leave while the Georgia Bureau of Investigations investigates Lee’s shooting.

Protesters are calling on the Savannah Police Department, GBI and the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office to release the dashcam and bodycam footage from the shooting.

Outside City Hall, church elder Johnson said, “If you have nothing to hide, then release the videos.” 

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