POWER POLL: Area leaders weigh in on race relations

Survey found support for adopting hate crimes legislation in Georgia

Most metro leaders believe race relations in Atlanta are the same or better than they are in the nation’s other urban centers.

Still, nearly nine out of 10 who responded to the Atlanta Power Poll survey said they want action – specifically, speedy passage by lawmakers of a hate crimes law to bring Georgia in line with 46 other states.

The Atlanta Power Poll is part of a nationwide survey that asks community leaders for their opinions on important local issues. In Georgia, the poll appears exclusively on AJC.com and in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The survey was taken June 15 to June 18, after weeks of massive local and national protests over George Floyd’s death in Minnesota, as well as cases emerging from the deaths of black people in Atlanta and Brunswick.

Sent via email to 964 metro Atlanta business, political, and civic leaders, the survey does not have the precision of a scientific poll. It is meant to provide insight into the thinking of metro leaders, 150 (or 15.56 percent) of whom responded.


Power Poll engages public officials across the region on important issues. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will send email surveys, at least once a month, to hundreds of government, business and community leaders, seeking their feedback on a timely and newsworthy topic. The topic and questions are selected by AJC editors. Power Poll is a non-scientific survey; the AJC will report the results at www.ajc.com and in the AJC ePaper and printed edition. The results, along with the list of those being surveyed, can also be found at www.powerpoll.com/atlanta. While participation is voluntary, the Power Poll provides valuable, local insight on important topics that matter to our readers. We’re open to new members for the Power Poll list; send your nominations to: memberupdates@powerpoll.com. If you have suggested survey questions, email them to: atlanta@powerpoll.com.


Of those who took the survey, nearly 45 percent said race relations are better in Atlanta than they are in other major cities, while 46% think they are the same, and slightly more than 9% believe they are worse.

Asked how the recent protests and demonstrations have affected their views:

  • nearly 43 percent said they believe it is now time for real change;
  • 28 percent said they were energized by the protests to give either time or money to a cause;
  • nearly 9 percent said periodic protests are inevitable;
  • and slightly more than 11 percent said the protests had made them more sympathetic to causes, such as Black Lives Matter, while about 9 percent said the protests had exactly the opposite effect on them.

Pat Upshaw-Monteith, president and CEO of Leadership Atlanta, said the events of the last few weeks “have only deepened our commitment to making change happen.

“While we are outraged and frustrated, we should also be heartened by growing signs our country may finally be at a tipping point for real change,” she said in written comments to Power Poll. “More than ever, the work requires fearless, thoughtful, and strong leaders who can identify appropriate ways to help our community eliminate racism, advance equality, and move forward.”

Others also see momentum building. For instance, A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, wrote that he’s convinced “change is in the air,” and State Rep. Angelika Kausche, a Democrat from Johns Creek, predicted that, “as a society, we are at the turning point.”

But Kausche said that the protests are not just a response to police brutality.

“They are the culmination of years of anger and frustration about systemic injustice and economic disparities, particularly targeting disenfranchised communities,” she said in comments to Power Poll.

Cobb County Tax Commissioner Carla Jackson echoed similar sentiments, writing: “The recent murders and policing inequities receiving media attention are sadly the tip of the iceberg – highlighting the ugly, harmful, and disgusting realities that people of color have been experiencing for decades.”

Lawrence Schall, president of Oglethorpe University, said Atlanta has grown into one of America’s greatest cities.

But, he said, “this pride can serve to obscure the reality that Atlanta is the most unequal of all American cities where the circumstance of a child’s birth, the zip code into which a child is born, largely determines his or her future. We are not a city of equal opportunity and that remains a tragic fact.”

RELATEDComplete coverage of Atlanta protests

Lisa Borders, a former president of the Atlanta City Council, said, with citizen commentators on every street corner with a digital device, “we are forced to deal with the reality on display.

“Today’s truth: Atlanta remains racially and economically fragmented,” she wrote. “Hence, our collective growth is stagnated and stunted by ill-conceived perceptions and substantial inequities, e.g. distrust and fear between racial groups, and a poverty rate at 24%.”

Borders said that “we need substantial internal work to unpack our past, followed by remedy and release,” as well as the daily necessities, such as affordable housing, health care and education.

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Other comments showed the wide swing in viewpoints. For instance, Lynne Laube, co-founder and COO of Cardlytics Inc. of Atlanta, wrote that “Atlanta, in particular, needs to lead Black Lives Matter for the country,” while Alpharetta City Councilman Ben Burnett said he believes Democrats don’t really want true equality and “use race relations as a political wedge.

“That is the shame because equality is truly possible,” he said.

Daniel Forsman, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties, told Power Poll that leaders have an obligation to listen, engage in discussions with colleagues and their communities, and then act.

“Supporting hate crimes legislation is a positive next step,” he wrote.

The Georgia House has passed a hate crimes bill, allowing for stiffer sentences for anyone convicted of targeting a victim based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, or mental or physical disabilities.

The state Senate is under pressure to vote on the measure before the 2020 General Assembly session, which was interrupted by the pandemic, adjourns in a few days. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has said that, if a hate crimes law is not passed this session, “it will leave a stain on this state that we can never wash away.”

RELATEDHate-crimes bill gets hearing after year in Georgia Senate committee

LEARN MORE: Track bills in the Georgia Legislature with AJC Legislative Navigator

Currently, only Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Wyoming do not some type of protections or extra penalties on their books dealing with hate crimes.

Of the community leaders who participated in the poll, about 87 percent favor passage of the bill, 8 percent are against and just over 5 percent are undecided.


  • Surveyed: 964
  • Responsed: 150
  • Response Rate: 15.56%


Georgia is one of four states with no hate crime law, joining South Carolina, Arkansas and Wyoming. Should Georgia enact hate crime legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session?


How have the recent protests and demonstrations altered your views?

Not much, this is something unfortunate that happens from time to time.138.67%
Some, they made me feel less sympathetic to causes like “Black Lives Matter.”149.33%
Some, they made me more sympathetic to causes like “Black Lives Matter.” I want to learn more.1711.33%
Quite a bit, I believe it is now time for real change.6442.67%
A lot, I contributed to a cause — money or time — as a result of these activities.4228.00%

How do race relations in Atlanta compare with other major cities?

About the same6946.00%

May 2020 Power PollMetro, state leaders on rebuilding economy

Voices from the AJC June Power Poll 

"I believe Georgia has great potential to lead the nation in engaging with leading corporations, as well as small businesses, to create economic opportunities. As we lift up those who are marginalized, we become stronger together."  —Mary Bowley, Founder & Executive Director, the non-profit Wellspring Living of Atlanta 

"As a nation, we do not learn real history, meaning the complete story of how this nation was founded and the racism that fueled some of the very practices and policies that hurt people today. It is all by design. The narrative becomes that laws around citizen's arrest and stand your ground are a way of keeping people safe. In fact, while some people may want to claim that these laws help them feel safe, there is another group of fellow human beings (black people) who feel anything but. These laws need to be repealed - now." —Charisse Davis, Board Member, Post 6, Cobb County School District 

"… It is time we have critical, honest, courageous conversations within our communities on race. We must acknowledge the racial tension that is dividing America and seek real change in policies and within institutions if we are to heal the overt racism that has become commonplace in America. …" —Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, Commissioner, District 7, DeKalb County Board of Commissioners 

"The protests are not just a response to police brutality. They are the culmination of years of anger and frustration about systemic injustice and economic disparities, particularly targeting disenfranchised communities. As a society, we are at a turning point." —State Rep. Angelika Kausche, a Democrat from Johns Creek 

"Atlanta in particular needs to lead Black Lives Matter for the country." —Lynne Laube, Co-founder & Chief Operating Officer, Cardlytics, Inc. of Atlanta 

"We must become the state too busy to hate!" —Michelle Olympiadis, Board Member, District 3, Atlanta Board of Education 

"This is a moment where we need action to create more equity. Addressing housing affordability would both respond to racially biased practices that created barriers for black renters and homeowners and do something that would create jobs and improve equity." —Jonathan Reckford, CEO, Habitat for Humanity International 

“There is much to be proud of about Atlanta as it has grown into one of America’s new great cities. At the same time, this pride can serve to obscure the reality that Atlanta is the most unequal of all American cities where the circumstance of a child’s birth, the zip code into which a child is born, largely determines his or her future. We are not a city of equal opportunity and that remains a tragic fact.” —Lawrence Schall, President, Oglethorpe University