“If you bring down youth-related crime, you bring down crime overall,” Dickens said during the city’s Midnight Basketball League’s championship game last month at C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center. “And so we’ve been focused on making sure that young people have opportunities to get jobs, but also after-school programming and weekend programming.”
In a report published earlier this year, the Council on Criminal Justice determined that while homicides are declining in major U.S. cities, the rate hasn’t yet dropped to pre-pandemic levels.
“While it is heartening to see homicide numbers drop, too many communities continue to lose too many residents to bloodshed,” said the study’s co-author, University of Missouri-St. Louis Professor Emeritus Richard Rosenfeld. “Research has validated a toolbox of strategies that reduce violence. What we need now is urgent action from our leaders and community members to accelerate crime-prevention efforts that give people a greater sense of safety and save lives.”
Dickens has dubbed 2023 the “Year of the Youth” and has championed programs like the basketball league that aim to keep Atlanta youngsters engaged and out of trouble.
The year’s first homicide victim, though, was a child.
On Jan. 21, Deshon DuBose, 13, was shot to death while leaving a skating rink. Deshon had been at Cascade Family Skating rink in southwest Atlanta with other teenagers when shots were fired, a witness told police. The tall seventh-grader was remembered by his Drew Charter School classmates as a “gentle giant.”
For the first four months of the year, homicides were down about 40% over the same time in 2022. By July 4, 58 homicides were reported in Atlanta, down from 85 on the same date in 2022. Since then, authorities have worked three additional homicide cases.
“We won’t tolerate the level of the violence that is plaguing our city,” Atlanta’s Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton said. “We’re going to hold everyone responsible for these violent acts. This is not Atlanta. Atlanta is a place where people can go out to the parks, the nightclubs, anywhere and be safe.”
On the morning of May 11, Barbara Mitchell told her son she loved him and was leaving their Decatur home for work.
“Ok, mom,” Devon had said. “I love you, too.”
It was the last time Mitchell would hear his voice.
“Mama, Devon was shot in the head!” her daughter said in a frantic phone call late that night.
Mitchell started calling hospitals and learned Devon was in critical condition at Grady Memorial Hospital. He was on a ventilator when Mitchell was allowed to see him.
“I remember hitting the floor. Just seeing my baby up there like that was devastating to me,” Mitchell said. “I relive it every day.”
Devon, who had dreams of working as a truck driver and in real estate, had been shot outside the Washington Park Natatorium on Ollie Street and died days later. He was 17.
“This has totally destroyed my whole life,” Mitchell said. “After this, I lost my job, I’m losing my home because I can’t pay my rent.”
After Devon’s death on May 15, there were 14 deaths ruled homicides in Atlanta through the end of June. Five of those victims were 19 or younger.
Two days after Devon was shot, 18-year-old Dominic McKibbins was shot to death outside Club Bankhead and Fox Phase II, a restaurant and event venue, in northwest Atlanta on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway.
At about 2:30 a.m. May 28, gunfire erupted during an unauthorized party outside Benjamin E. Mays High School. Bre’Asia Powell, 16, was shot to death and another teen was injured. Jaquan Withers, 18, and Willie Dennis, 19, have been charged with murder.
“Young people, and I’m including myself, we got to change,” rapper Lil Baby said during her funeral on June 3. “I’m only here because we need to come up with a plan and I’m here to help with a plan.”
Bre’Asia, a star athlete and outstanding student at Mays, had planned to work for the city through Atlanta’s youth employment program this summer.
Midtown shooting an outlier
Over the years, authorities have said most homicide cases involve people who know each other.
Aneicia Temple, 25, was shot to death Jan. 28 in a breezeway at the Northside Plaza Apartment Homes on Markham Street. Her boyfriend, Shyheem Donley, has been charged with murder and aggravated assault and remains in the Fulton jail.
Breanna Woods, 28, a popular employee at Black Coffee downtown, was shot May 31 at the Twelve Centennial Park building at 400 West Peachtree Street, where she lived.
“She was just such a calming presence and such a beautiful spirit,” coffee shop owner Carl Northrop said.
Douglas Hairston, 30, who Woods had been dating, was charged with murder and other counts and also remains in the Fulton jail.
The May 3 mass shooting in a waiting room at the Northside Hospital Midtown medical building on West Peachtree Street was a harrowing outlier. The high-profile incident left one woman dead and four injured.
Deion Patterson, 24, was captured hours after the shooting in Cobb County after a massive, multi-jurisdiction manhunt and charged with murder in the death of Amy St. Pierre, 38, and four counts of aggravated assault. He remains in the Fulton County jail.
Patterson is “a veteran and suffers from apparent mental health issues,” his public defender, Shawn Hoover, said in a statement. His mother, Minyone Patterson, told The Associated Press that her son was experiencing a mental break the day of the shooting.
Far more common, authorities say, are incidents that start with a dispute and end in deadly violence.
“This is not just a police issue, it is a people issue,” the Atlanta Police Department said in a June social media post. “Guns in the hands of angry or irresponsible people put the community at risk. You cannot put the bullet back in the chamber once it is discharged. Many have learned this the hard way.”
‘Wake up and pay attention’
The Atlanta Police Department in June launched Operation Heatwave, a 16-week effort to reduce homicides, shootings and armed robberies by sending more officers to areas where data shows weapon, drug and gang crimes occur most often.
Special Enforcement Captain Ralph Woolfolk said parental involvement also plays a role in crime prevention.
“We need for parents to wake up and pay attention to what their children are doing this summer,” Woolfolk said. “There are places to go, there are jobs that are being offered to our youth. There are places to spend positive time and interaction with mentors and all kinds of resources that have been allocated for our youth.”
Barbara Mitchell, who spoke at her son’s funeral days after his shooting death in May, is also calling on the community.
“I hope someone will come forward,” Mitchell said. “I hope his friends are telling the whole truth about everything. I hope they catch the person or the people that did it so he can get justice for his life. He didn’t deserve that. He’s not going to see 18. He’s not going to be able to live his life.”
— Staff writer Riley Bunch contributed to this article.