I’ve lived in Atlanta for over three decades. I grew up an hour west in the then-rural town of Carrollton, where my father taught at West Georgia College. Twice a year, we traveled to Atlanta, in August to do our back-to-school shopping and in December to attend “The Nutcracker” ballet. My husband is a native Atlantan. Both our children were born here. It is our home. We have invested our time and energy in our city. I serve on four nonprofits; my husband serves on the vestry at St. Luke’s Atlanta. We love Atlanta.
I care deeply about the city I call home and have worked with others for decades to make our community stronger and better. Atlanta, long known as “The City Too Busy to Hate,” has an opportunity to once again lead the nation, for Atlantans to reach out to one another to focus on projects and progress, rather than rhetoric and hate. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
What are the recent events that have led us here? Like the rest of the nation, we participated in the COVID-19 quarantine and then in the Black Lives Matter protests, some of which turned violent. (Note that CNN’s parent company, AT&T, recently sold the network’s marquee headquarters downtown after it was vandalized — simply coincidence?) We were hot, restless, simmering.
On June 12, Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe fatally shot Rayshard Brooks when the 27-year-old father resisted arrest. Awakened by police after he had fallen asleep at a Wendy’s drive-thru, Brooks wrestled a stun gun away from one of the officers and aimed it in their direction as he was running away. Rolfe shot back with his gun. The police officer is white, and Brooks was black.
The next day, Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields stepped down, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms fired the two policemen involved. Five days later, District Attorney Paul Howard, who is in a Democratic primary run-off to maintain his position, called a press conference to announce charges against the policemen.
Howard is under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for receiving $140,000 from a nonprofit that had received the money from the City of Atlanta. Howard is also dealing with three sexual harassment lawsuits. Those details may explain why he neither informed the GBI of the charges nor waited for the GBI to finish its investigation.
The obvious politicization of the press conference, the longstanding 12-hour shifts to deal with protests and a lot of badmouthing of the police have taken a toll on police morale. The Atlanta police then experienced the so-called “Blue Flu.” In support of the police, we visited our precinct and delivered supplies.
“More than 61 percent of Atlanta beat cops missed work on June 17, the day Howard brought charges against Rolfe, and more than 65 percent were absent on June 18,” wrote Sean Keenan in “A closer look at the ‘Blue Flu'” for SaportaReport on July 6.
Though the police have returned to work, they must be concerned about their ability to do their jobs, given the lack of support they have received from the mayor and the rush to judgment from the DA.
Last Saturday night, an 8-year-old girl was fatally shot while in her mother’s car as they were traveling near the same Wendy’s restaurant where Brooks was killed. The area had been controlled by armed people for days, with other instances of shots being fired, and one woman shot in the leg.
Lawlessness has prevailed, and gun violence has spiked. “Ninety-three people were shot in Atlanta during the four-week period of May 31 to June 27, up drastically from 46 in the same period last year,” wrote Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Joshua Sharpe on July 5. “And fourteen people died of homicide in that span, compared to six during the same time frame in 2019.”
This past weekend, “14 were shot during a fight at an outdoor party in northeast Atlanta where people had gathered to watch fireworks, police said. That shooting occurred about the same time a crowd was busting out windows of the Georgia State Patrol headquarters,” Sharpe wrote.
Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency and authorized up to 1,000 Georgia National Guard troops to secure state property.
Well, there we are. My hope is that we work together to figure out how to create a city that my children will want to return to one day.
We best get busy, and not hate.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.