Dan Young’s morning routine is simple. Coffee and a sandwich with a couple of newspapers at the Cascade Road Starbucks in Atlanta. Sprawled in front of him on Friday were the front pages of The New York Times and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, both with big headlines announcing the first ever criminal indictment of a former American president.
“I never thought we would get to the point in this country where a former president is indicted,” said Young, an 83-year-old retired political science professor from Atlanta University. “Never in my wildest dreams.”
Young is among many Americans now pausing to reflect on what it’s like living amid such historic times: First, the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Next, intense political polarization and a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. A new war in Europe. And now the indictment of former President Donald Trump.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke to Georgians around metro Atlanta Friday. Reactions were mixed — from thrilled to defiant to oblivious. Heading into uncharted territory, they are also wondering what this news could mean for their democracy. What does it portend for our next presidential election? And what about the potential for more political violence?
Trump, a norm-shattering president twice impeached by federal lawmakers, recently called for his supporters to protest ahead of the indictment, later writing on social media about “potential death & destruction.”
An Atlanta police spokeswoman said Friday that officers would “remain ready to respond, as needed.” And the Georgia State Patrol said it is “monitoring all intelligence and will work cooperatively and appropriately with local and other state law enforcement agencies.”
Young criticized Trump’s comments.
“I am old enough to have lived through the civil rights movement and I have seen people killed, places burned,” Young said. “So it is totally irresponsible to call for anybody — black, white, pink or green — to call for death and destruction.”
At the same time, Trump’s indictment is galvanizing his supporters. Among them is Zeucis Martinez, a Venezuelan immigrant who lives in Dalton. Calling the criminal charges “politically motivated,” Martinez said Trump’s opponents “are terrified that he might be able to win in 2024.”
“They’re trying to do everything possible to stop that from happening,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “For them, putting him in jail would be ideal.” New York prosecutors, he added, are “going to make him a hero.”
Like Martinez, Mike Upchurch is not letting the indictment dim his excitement over Trump’s latest presidential campaign.
“I’m tickled that Trump is running again, I am a staunch supporter of his,” the Cobb County resident said. “This will give him a tremendous bounce and I really don’t think he needed it to begin with.”
The historic nature of the moment “doesn’t affect me at all,” Upchurch added, because “this is staged.”
Linda Capps, an educator who lives in Carroll County, called the indictment “ridiculous” and suggested it would stoke political divisions.
“It’s one party against another. This whole country is already in a mess and everybody is distraught, and to do this, it’s crazy,” she said.
To Atlanta resident McKeisha Washington, the indictment is a sign that the U.S. justice system is working.
“If you did it, you did it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who pointed it out. It’s the fact that a crime was committed.” Washington hopes Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will indict Trump on charges he interfered with Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. Willis is expected to make a decision later this spring.
Parthiv Parekh, editor-in-chief of a Duluth-based magazine that focuses on the Indian-American community, said the charges against Trump were “overdue,” adding: “People were getting the feeling that the man could get away with just about anything.”
“Is this guy ever going to be held accountable by the law? Now it’s happening,” Parekh said. “That’s a good statement about the state of law in our country — that it eventually does work.”
On the campuses of the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, many students on Friday were only peripherally aware that something had happened.
“My mom will send me some updates about it,” said Drake Griffith, a 19-year-old industrial engineering major at Tech. “I didn’t see the news – that’s huge.”
But he and his friend Seth Rodgers, 19, mostly felt like the charges coming years later, and the national reaction, were “stupid.”
“It’s the dumbest issue ever — I feel like for both sides,” Rodgers said. “For them to go after him for more than five years and then for him to cause all this chaos over the tiniest little thing.”
Claudia DeCredico, a 20-year-old chemical engineering major, said after so many “unprecedented” events in recent years the news doesn’t have the same effect.
“I feel like it’s a sad thing that that’s the point we’re at,” she said. “That like our government is being run by people who would be in a position to be indicted for something.”
Nakul Kuttua, a 21-year-old computer science major, wonders how this moment will be “taught in schools down the line — a decade or century probably.”
“It’s very interesting to witness this kind of firsthand,” she said.
Matt Raftery, an Athens resident who was at the Starbucks on Cascade Road Friday, sounded a note of optimism.
“America will survive this,” said the food services industry worker. “The important thing is to recognize the person in front or beside you. The world we live in now — it is easy not to see the physical human in front of you. As long as we keep ourselves grounded in that, we will.”
AJC staff writers Shaddi Abusaid, Cassidy Alexander, Taylor Croft, Martha Dalton, Lautaro Grinspan, Helena Oliviero, Shelia Poole, Josh Reyes and Lucinda Warnke contributed to this report.