Since 1975, when Maynard Jackson was elected the city’s first Black mayor, Atlanta has been run by a Black mayor voted into office by the Southwest Atlanta Political Machine.
In the 2014 election, Kasmin Reed barely held off a challenge from Mary Norwood, a white Republican who lives in the wealthy Buckhead community. She came within 900 hundred votes, more or less, of winning. Again in 2018, Norwood nearly wrestled the mayor’s office away from the Black power structure in another close race against Keshia Lance Bottoms, Reed’s hand-picked successor.
On Sunday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp twice threatened to send in the State Guard if Mayor Bottoms proves ineffective in restoring law and order on Atlanta streets. More specifically, the streets surrounding Wendy’s restaurant on University Avenue, where Rayshard Brooks was shot in the back by a white Atlanta cop on June 12.
After a night of rioting on June 13, Black street protestors returned peaceably to the area on June 14. They blocked off the intersections leading to Wendy’s.
The following night, June 15, armed Black men and women showed up to patrol the area. Mayor Bottoms, to allow the community an opportunity to grieve, removed police officers from the district. The gunmen and gunwomen said they would control their community and did not need the help of the Atlanta Police.
About this time, white cops started a “blue wave.” They protested the firing of several officers by Bottoms. Additionally, white police officers were angry because Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard brought criminal charges against the officers involved in the Brooks killing. And also, excessive use of force charges against two Black officers involved in the arrest of two Black college students who had just left a demonstration concerning the murder of George Floyd.
When a driver became frustrated with the blockade on University Avenue and drove his car towards the demonstrators, he was fired upon by the Black armed patrol. The demonstrators shouted, “stand your ground,” and self-defense.
Meanwhile, Bottoms moved to review the findings of a blue-ribbon commission looking into how to change the culture of policing in Atlanta. She issued several executive orders based on the results of the first 14 days of review.
Then the shooting started, three people killed by gunfire coming from the blockade at Wendy’s. The most heart wrenching, a beautiful eight-year-old girl, Secoriea Turner, riding past the Wendy’s in a car driven by her mom.
Two hours after Kemp issued his first threat, a man was shot and killed in the University Avenue area.
The shootings prompted Bottoms to sigh, “ Enough is enough. This wild, wild west shoot them up cause you can — it got to stop.”
Alluding to a series of killings in the Black community in recent weeks, Bottom noted, “These aren’t police officers shooting up people in the community. These are people in the community, killing each other.”
On the list are the following:
1. a Black teenager selling water on Peachtree Street shot by another Black teen who wanted the $10 bill that a motorist gave to the murdered teenager,
2. an 80-year-old Black grandfather killed in his home,
3. three Black people killed on Edgewood and Auburn Avenues, the streets walked by Martin Luther King, Jr as a boy,
4. several people received gun-shot wounds on University Avenue (Wendy’s location).
5. Three killed on University Avenue,
All presumably wounded or murdered by other Black people.
Mayor Bottoms received criticism for tackling Black on Black crime head-on. The mayor retorted, “The Civil Rights Movement had a common enemy. We can’t lose each other in this,” she pled.
Atlanta Civil Rights and Criminal Defense Attorney, Gerald A. Griggs, was compelled to tweet:
“People can speak out for justice for the lives taken by police brutality and the innocent lives taken by gun violence; it’s not one or the other. If you are speaking out only for one, then that is a problem.”
Kemp was rebuffed by Bottoms in May when she did not fall into line with his early decision to open Georgia for business. Atlanta is still following a well-developed reopening plan. Recently, Kemp had to backtrack on his decision to open the state to business activity when the number of cases and deaths from the Coronovirus continue to climb at an alarming rate. Kemp is now a fervent proponent of face masks, something he shunned early in the pandemic.
A day after the murder of Turner, Kemp tweeted, “This recent trend of lawlessness is outrageous & unacceptable. Georgians, including those in uniform, need to be protected from crime & violence.”
Kemp made it clear that as governor, he has the power to send in state law enforcement officers and the State Guard or a combination of both if the violence in the streets of Atlanta does not cease. He made a similar boost following the mass demonstrations for George Floyd in downtown Atlanta.
“While we stand ready to assist local leaders in restoring peace & maintaining order, we won’t hesitate to take action without them.” This comment is a sure-fire dig at Bottoms who did not join Kemp in reopening the City of Atlanta and followed her drumbeat.
Kemp is not the only person to express dismay at the level of violence in Atlanta.
Rev. Darryl Winston, a member of the Black clergy in Atlanta, said, “Atlanta — like many urban centers in our nation — has become a powder keg — and is facing a leadership crisis. It’s facing a leadership crisis because our leaders have become more beholden to the power structure than to the under-served, drowning out their cries, drowning out their concerns.
As I predicted in my book, Justice in the Round, Cascade Publishing House, Atlanta, p. 147–148, 2015:
“Rushing headlong into the 21st century, America will either live out her creed of justice for all, as rooted in the written words of her 18th-century founders. Or there will be modern-day rebellions. Correspondingly, the streets will be devoid of peace. The streets occupied by militias, survivalists, ethnic gangs, nationalized state guard units, and millennial patriots, each seeking their perspective of what law and order, freedom and justice, civil rights, and human decency are in the streets of America.”
For the past three years, the Republican-controlled state legislature introduced plans to take over the control of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. This goose lays the golden eggs in Atlanta. A move designed to redistribute the riches coming into the city coffers, and weaken the influence Atlanta politicos have in the region and the state. Thus far, each attempt has failed.
Two days after Independence Day 2020, the city lost a bit of its autonomy without a take over of the airport.
Within twenty-four hours of the killing of the Secoriea Turner, Bottoms tweeted she test positive for the Coronavirus:
“COVID-19 has literally hit home. I have had NO symptoms and have tested positive.”
Shortly after that, the country music star Charlie Daniels who sung The Devil Went Down to Georgia, died. Then Kemp sent one thousand State Guards down to Atlanta, Georgia, one-upping his pandemic nemesis, as she goes into quarantine for the next 14 days, and back-hand slapped the face of the nation’s leading deep south city run by Black folks.
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at email@example.com.