Former Mayor Kasim Reed: Atlanta crime is unacceptable, ‘not COVID-driven’

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has referred to a ‘COVID crime wave’
Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and then Police Chief George Turner stand in the street meet with protesters outside the Governor's mansion during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in 2016. Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and then Police Chief George Turner stand in the street meet with protesters outside the Governor's mansion during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in 2016. Curtis Compton /

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is not planning to run again for his old job this year, he told The Frank Ski Show on KISS 104.1 FM Wednesday morning. But he made some impassioned remarks about crime in Atlanta, which is shaping up to be the central issue in the 2021 mayor’s race.

“The level of crime and violence is just at unacceptable levels and it’s fracturing our city in a way that I haven’t seen in my lifetime,” Reed said.

Reed, who served as Atlanta’s 59th mayor from 2010 to 2018, said he is not planning to run against incumbent Keisha Lance Bottoms, or endorse any candidate at this point. Reed stressed several times he was commenting as a private citizen.

Thus far, Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore and attorney Sharon A. Gay have entered the race.

Rumors have swirled for months that Reed was thinking of running for mayor again, setting up a challenge against Bottoms, who he supported in the 2017 election.

“I spend a lot of my time fielding telephone calls about running for mayor, but that’s not something that’s a part of my plans,” Reed said, adding that he believes “there’s one mayor at a time” and he didn’t want to attack anyone on air.

Still, he leveled some thinly veiled critiques of his successor’s administration and handling of crime. Reed never mentioned Bottoms by name, but suggested a contrast in the administrations.

“The level of crime and violence is wholly unacceptable. It’s not COVID-driven,” Reed said.

Bottoms has linked the rise in crime to the pandemic on several occasions, as violent crime went up in several major cities last year after COVID hit. In her recent State of the City address, Bottoms said, “Atlanta will get to the other side of this COVID crime wave.”

Reed said when he left office at the beginning of 2018, “crime was at its lowest level in 40 years. The city of Atlanta was safer than it had been in a generation,” Reed said. “When I was mayor I had a pager on my hip that let me know every time a crime occurred in Atlanta. If a woman got her door kicked in, it was in my phone.”

Last year was a historically deadly one in Atlanta. The city’s police department investigated 157 homicides, the most in decades. High-profile incidents included numerous shootings, two fatal, at the city’s premier shopping centers.

Then-Mayor Kasim Reed and Keisha Lance Bottoms talk during Reed’s final workday at Atlanta City Hall on December 29, 2017. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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“We have metal detectors on Phipps Plaza, Lenox Square Mall are you kidding me?” Reed said. “You have the Buckhead community working to split off from the city. We’ve never seen this. This is not a game.”

The city’s homicide rate so far outpaces last year’s, leaving police to embrace a new tactic: pleading for people to quit shooting each other.

“Choosing guns to resolve conflict does not. Think before you shoot,” the department said in a recent social media post.

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The city also faced periods of unrest last year, some of which turned destructive. Again, without naming anyone, Reed had thoughts on the response.

“I would never have conceived of calling the National Guard on my own people,” he said. “When there were protests in Atlanta I didn’t sit behind a desk. I was in those protests.”

Ski began the Wednesday morning segment by saying, “Our city is upside down right now. Our city is in turmoil. There is a lot of frustration and we can’t pretend that it’s not happening.”

His cohost, Nina Brown, shared that she had been robbed at a gas station at 11 a.m. one day.

“Women ought to be able to stop at a gas station to get gas without being scared,” Reed said. “We can reduce crime in this city and have it back to a sense of normalcy in 180 days if you have the will.”

Were he still in the saddle, Reed said he would work to give youths who sell water at intersections better options.

“I would start with a variety of activities to give our young people to do,” Reed said. “I would be much more physically present and hands on.”