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Protesters march in Riverdale

By Ed Brock

The scene hearkened back to the civil rights marches of the 1950s and 1960s, a group of protesters, black and white, singing "This Little Light of Mine" and taking to the streets.

On Saturday regular citizens and the leaders of several civil rights groups marched from the New Macedonia Baptist Church on Church Street to Riverdale City Hall to protest what they call the unjust termination of a Riverdale police captain.

Former Riverdale police Capt. Philip Neely, who was fired last week in connection with an investigation into comments he made to the media about threats against his life by another city employee, said he was moved by the turn out of citizens in his support.

"It's lovely. I'm just glad to see all the people," Neely said.

Nearly 100 people came out for the march, a turnout that pleased organizer Roberta Abdul-Salaam.

"I'm encouraged," Abdul-Salaam said.

In a notice of termination sent to Neely interim co-City Manager Sylvester Murray said Neely was being fired because he made unauthorized comments to the media about alleged threats made against his life and because he was not forthcoming with information in the investigation.

Neely has denied all wrong-doing. Previously Riverdale Mayor Phaedra Graham and Murray said the termination was the decision of the city manager.

The city council did not vote on the termination.

"It caught me by surprise when they did let Mr. Neely go," City Councilwoman Michelle Bruce said. "The interim city managers are the ones who hire and fire."

Bruce said she couldn't comment on specifics of the case and other city council members did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Georgia State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, also joined the march. He said it was the GABEO's responsibility to join the coalition in support of Neely.

"We feel like wherever there is an injustice we'll be there to fight for justice," Brooks said. "We believe that the reinstatement of Capt. Neely and addressing some of these issues that were brought up in the Department of Justice report (on allegations of racism in the Riverdale Police Department) would be the appropriate thing to do."

Other Riverdale officers mentioned in the report have also been terminated for varying reasons. Mark Johnson, a Riverdale businessman, said he was at the march calling for the reinstatement of former police Capt. Carl Freeman. Freeman, who along with former Officer Frank Usher and Neely, have previously made complaints about racism in the Riverdale Police Department. Freeman was fired after pleading guilty to charges in Fayette County in connection with an incident in which he was found urinating near a pond at a Fayetteville amusement park.

Johnson said he was standing behind Freeman morally and financially.

"I believe he was wrongfully terminated," Johnson said.

Not all of the marchers were from Riverdale. Sam Winston came from Atlanta to lend his support for the cause.

"I see a really nice movement taking place. I'm glad to see that," Winston said.

After marching down the side of Ga. Highway 85 and arriving at city hall, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a former associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to the crowd.

"We came over here for justice," Lowery said. "We want good law enforcement. We just want it to be fair, we just want it to be just, we just want it to be even handed."