Atlanta hits 100 murders. Mayor hopefuls spout “solutions”

Councilman Andre Dickens isn't under indictment, didn't run a bribe-infested corrupt administration, and did his homework on policing solutions. Platitude-spewing ex-mayor Kaseem Reed leads polls. SMH

Major Keisha Lance Bottoms remained silent as a triple homicide propelled Atlanta past the century mark of homicides in 2021, which is more than the entire year of 2019, and a 60 percent increase over 2020. Atlanta is in the midst of a violent crime wave of epic proportions, at a time when racial tensions, pandemic-fueled unemployment, and a year without in-person school have taken a massive toll on the city.

Bottoms announced in early May that she is not seeking re-election. She realized that there was little she could do as mayor to reverse the loss of experienced police officers, after essentially firing the popular chief Erika Shields, who took over the Louisville, Kentucky police department in January of this year, for the crime of—well, being white. (In a sad irony, Louisville hit its 100th homicide on June 23, and is on track to exceed Atlanta’s murder total.)

Shields was dumped after the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man, which the Fulton County Medical Examiner ruled a homicide. Garrett Rolfe, a white officer, who shot Brooks after the man took his taser and ran while pointing it at officers, was reinstated with full back pay after the Civil Service Board ruled he was denied due process when he was fired.

Former Fulton County DA Paul Howard, who was himself tossed from office by voters after becoming embroiled in an embezzlement scandal, charged Rolfe with felony murder, but the new DA Fani Willis (who is also investigating former President Donald Trump on potential charges of interfering with the 2020 election) wouldn’t take the case.

With all this hanging in the air, it’s no wonder Atlanta’s finest are departing for greener pastures or retirement.

And with Mayor Bottoms exiting, the hopefuls are coming out with their “talk the talk” on fixing Atlanta’s exploding crime problem. The questions are: Will their ideas work, can they make it work, and importantly, can we believe them?

Let’s take Councilman Antonio Brown, who famously had his own vehicle carjacked from under his nose at a campaign event, then waited 45 minutes for the (“defund the”) police to arrive to take a report. After the car was found, Brown refused to press charges against the “little kids” who stole it. Note that they dragged him a half a block while Brown tried to stop the crime.

Brown wants to set up a Department of Public Safety and Wellness to handle non-emergency calls, and provide non-police care and services 24 hours a day. The APD already has a Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative (PAD); this would expand on the idea.

His answer is “community policing” (offered without a specific definition), not hiring hundreds of new officers. “Militarizing Atlanta police is not going to solve the problem,” Brown told the AJC. You should know, Brown is also under federal indictment for wire fraud, so I guess he’s totally believable. Strike one.

"For years, Antonio Brown allegedly sought to defraud a number of banks and credit card companies by falsely claiming that he was the victim of identity theft," said U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak. "Brown’s scheme was eventually brought to light, resulting in his indictment by the grand jury."       

As much as we have reason to dismiss Brown as an accused liar and thief, his ideas are also generally found to be useless against crime. In a July 1998 paper by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, all manner of rehabilitation, diversion, enrichment, and counseling programs—especially the unstructured ones that Brown favors—are listed as bullet-points in the “what doesn’t work” summary. Strike two.

Brown also claimed, as if nobody knew, that many homicides involve victims and assailants who know one another, promoting conflict resolution as an essential to stop altercations from becoming murders. Of course many murderers know their victims; this isn’t even useful to argue. Brown gives no answer on how some magic process to intervene in gang, domestic, and drug disputes would happen, just that it would be nice if people didn’t kill one another. Strike three.

Councilman Andre Dickens, who isn’t under indictment, has apparently done his homework and at least read the DOJ report so he can parrot it back.

“Human life is too precious to allow this violent crime spike to continue,” he said. “We must adequately support APD, attract more federal resources to stop gangs and guns, and engage all our community partners — business, nonprofits, clergy and (Atlanta Public Schools) — to make Atlanta streets safe.”

A lengthy November 2020 report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice recommends the ideas Dickens suggested as viable. A lengthy Violent Crime Reduction Operations Guide produced by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, under a federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, also advocates Dickens’ solutions. (Aside—how many distinct and cleverly named offices does the DOJ have to spend taxpayer money on the same reports regurgitated over and over?)

Dickens favors “smart technology and more officers” patrolling hot spots. It’s a known fact that “stop and frisk” types of deterrent programs do work. But they also lead to more incidents like Rayshard Brooks, where the occasional friskee resists and it devolves into violence. It’s a risky strategy, but it seems to have the most support in the professional law enforcement community.

Sharon Gay, a lawyer who served as Executive Counsel to Mayor Bill Campbell, wants more police and better training. As general statements and platitudes go, this is a sound solution, but also, as Rocky the Flying Squirrel always said, “that trick never works.” It’s hard to pull off a better trained department while maintaining racial harmony, or fixing the wide breach between white politicians and officers, and Black residents. By the way, Gay is white. Strikes one, two and three, at least in Atlanta politics.

Another mayoral candidate blames Fulton County, and she’s not wrong. City Council President Felicia Moore said Fulton County courts are releasing too many accused criminals awaiting court dates. She’d cancel Bottoms’ plans to convert the city detention center into a “center for equity with community services,” and make it a lockup for Fulton’s catch-and-release program.

Moore’s approach is sound, taking criminals off the streets, but she also wants to crack down on nightclubs, which Gay also advocated. Code enforcement of unlicensed bars isn’t going to fix the crime problem. We know this because it didn’t work during Prohibition. It’s just a political ploy that will, at best, be a neutral distraction from actual crime fighting. I’m not sure where this “illegal nightclub” problem became a top-shelf issue, but there’s no evidence I’ve read that it had any transformative effect on violent crime.

Finally, former Mayor Kaseem Reed, a contender for the most corrupt Atlanta mayor in history, whose campaign itself is being investigated by the federal prosecutors for violations of campaign laws, said a few words that mean nothing at all. The AJC quotes him:

“Every life lost represents a family mourning the loss of a mother, a father, a sister, or brother,” Reed said. “We cannot accept this loss of life as the new normal as violent crime continues to surge.

“This crisis requires hands-on leadership and an approach that is both tough and smart on crime,” he said.

Reed is leading in the polls, with Moore in second place, and a whopping 39 percent still undecided. It seems like, for now, saying as little as possible, using word-salad, is the winning approach. It also offers further evidence that some politicians are more immune to scandal than others.

There are, in fact, some real solutions that could work to significantly reduce Atlanta’s violent crime problem. If I had to choose the next mayor based on who has apparently done their homework, I’d go with Dickens. Dickens is polling at just 3 percent, way down in the field.

Most voters aren’t informed enough on the matter to decide on facts. They listen to what they want to hear. “Hands-on leadership,” “tough and smart,” are buzzwords. Unfortunately, buzzwords and just “talking the talk” won’t fix the problem.


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