Atlanta Mayor Bottoms answers questions on police reform, masks

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks during an online update of the city on Thursday, July 16, 2020.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks during an online update of the city on Thursday, July 16, 2020.

Credit: City of Atlanta Twitter

Credit: City of Atlanta Twitter

From the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to it’s efforts with police reform, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms gave a sweeping public update and answered journalists’ questions during a livestream event Thursday.

Bottoms has become increasingly popular on national news programs, especially since her position on the short list of vice presidential picks for Democratic candidate Joe Biden has become known.

But her mission Thursday was to keep it local with a new format to communicate with Atlantans. The mayor said she might make the briefings a regular thing.

Questions quickly turned the tension between her and Gov. Brian Kemp regarding Bottoms’ order requiring people in the city’s commercial establishments to wear masks, which are widely regarded by health officials as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Kemp made national news himself late Wednesday night when he said cities and counties can’t mandate that people wear masks, setting the stage for a potential legal showdown between local governments and the state.

When asked if she was concerned about the possibility of a lawsuit, Bottoms said: “I’m not concerned about that at all ... I will put our policies up against anyone, any day of the week.”

READ | Kemp’s ban of mask mandates puts Georgia on collision course with its cities

Bottoms said she is concerned about the “alarming rise” in COVID-19 numbers, saying 116 city employees have had the disease and two have died. Bottoms announced July 6 that she and some of her family members have tested positive for the virus.

Because of the increasing number of cases, Bottoms a week ago rolled the city back to Phase 1 restrictions on what people in the city can and should do.

Bottoms also acknowledged during the briefing that there has been a surge in violent crimes, including homicides and aggravated assaults, in the past 28 days. But she said police are focusing their resources appropriately.

The mayor also reviewed her police reform initiatives but didn’t mention that earlier in the week she vetoed eight measures passed by the Atlanta City Council on July 6, following the deadly shooting of Rayshard Brooks by a police officer on June 12.

Bottoms didn’t explain her veto during the livestream, but said Wednesday that she did so because of procedural issues.

READ | Crews raze Wendy’s where police killed Brooks, few there to see it

“As the City evaluates and implements use of force reform, we must do so in a deliberate manner devoid of constitutional controversy,” she said in a written statement Wednesday.

The set of eight measures passed by the city council included bans on chokeholds and shooting at moving vehicles, along with comprehensive reporting when officers use their weapons.

The ordinance draws on the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign, which has spread on social media as a solution to national policing problem even though some activists say the changes don’t go far enough.

She summed up her vision for how police and neighborhoods should interact: “We all want the safe thing, and that’s to be safe in our communities.”

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