OUR VIEW: Mayor Bottoms, you must do more to curb homicides

The fatal shooting of a 16-year-old girl at a downtown hotel marks the 154th homicide Atlanta police have investigated this year. 
(File photo)
The fatal shooting of a 16-year-old girl at a downtown hotel marks the 154th homicide Atlanta police have investigated this year. (File photo)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

THE EDITORIAL BOARD’S OPINION

It will be hard, as it should be, to forget Secoriea Turner, 8, and Kennedy Maxie, 7. They were innocent. They were young. And they were victims of killers’ bullets fired into their cars just months apart.

So many others were killed in 2020 in the city of Atlanta. They were fathers, mothers, spouses, sons and daughters, and the grim list included more than 20 children and teenagers.

Many of their cases remain unsolved.

The list of victims should be too long for a decent society to tolerate. Last year, the city tallied a total of 157 people killed by violent intent. Three of these cases stem from incidents that took place prior to last year, but each was officially ruled a homicide in 2020. By comparison, 99 homicides were recorded during 2019.

ExploreAtlanta's deadliest year in decades has city on edge and demanding change

It was the deadliest years in Atlanta in two decades.

After Kennedy died on Dec. 26, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued this statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Our hearts are broken by the senseless murder of Kennedy.”

Noting that the Atlanta Police Department was hard at work to apprehend those responsible, the mayor said that “does not erase the pain felt when a beautiful, vibrant and loving child is tragically taken from her family.”

ExploreOpinion: City's crime rise can be reversed once more

That anguish is being felt by too many families.

It’s time for you, Mayor Bottoms, to lead the charge in reducing the city’s homicide rate.

It’s time for your actions and your efforts to match your rhetoric.

It’s time for you to make our city safer.

201229-Atlanta-Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms pauses while emotionally talking about how hard it is to hold press conferences about children being shot and killed during an update on the shooting death of 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 29, 2020 at Atlanta Police headquarters. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
201229-Atlanta-Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms pauses while emotionally talking about how hard it is to hold press conferences about children being shot and killed during an update on the shooting death of 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 29, 2020 at Atlanta Police headquarters. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

On Thursday, President-elect Biden announced that he nominated you for a position on the Democratic National Committee. We hope that new post doesn’t distract you from vigorously pursuing your duties as mayor.

Yes, mayor, we agree that violent crime has surged across the country, in places large and small. Other cities have even seen increases in murders that exceed ours.

But Atlanta is your responsibility. And you must do more to reduce the bloodshed here.

ExploreInteractive: Atlanta's 2020 homicide victims

In a special report in today’s editions and on AJC.com, we look back on Atlanta’s deadliest year in decades. We chronicle the lives that ended violently across 365 days. The stories of the victims are sadly compelling; the sum of lost humanity is staggering.

Our reporting shows that the public believes the city is losing the battle when it comes to protecting its citizens. That’s unacceptable for a city as important and influential as Atlanta.

We understand the steep rise in homicides will not be easy to address.

But you, Mayor Bottoms, and the city you lead must try harder.

To begin, you must find ways to bring stability to the Atlanta Police Department. Hiring a permanent – not interim – police chief should be among your top priorities. And the chief must be given the authority to do what is necessary to implement innovative policing that many believe can make a difference on our streets.

Common sense suggests that is less likely with an interim chief in place.

Mayor Bottoms, you must also address staffing shortages within the APD. We recognize that police morale is low and the force is nearly 400 officers below the authorized level. In the face of protests and criticism over controversial police use-of-force incidents, many officers have retired or quit.

Clearly, an understaffed police department cannot adequately address the public safety challenges of this moment. We implore you to find the resources to fill vacancies.

People must trust their police, and you can help here, too, Mayor Bottoms. You must see to it that officers who cross the line of acceptable behavior are investigated and punished swiftly and fairly.

Only then will skeptical citizens be willing to provide the eyes and ears to police that can help reduce crime.

But this is not the mayor’s problem to solve alone.

The protectors and the should-be-protected need each other. That’s how an orderly society works.

As Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore told our reporters, “In 2021, we cannot have a repeat of what’s going on this year. And that’s going to mean addressing police accountability, but that’s also going to mean we have to support the police.”

Getting there will take work on both sides. And it may be the toughest task our community and its leaders have faced in a long time.

But it is necessary.

We cannot make progress by standing along divides marked “us” and “them.” Never has there been a more important, urgent time to remember that we are each other’s keeper.

We are in this together. After all, violent crime affects us all – anyone and everyone who has traveled the Downtown Connector or attended a sporting or entertainment event in the city.

It’s easy to complain about the rise in homicides. It’s easy to deflect responsibility.

But that is unacceptable, particularly for those in Atlanta City Hall.

Mayor Bottoms, it is up to you to act decisively and begin turning this tide. And it’s up to us all to support enhanced community initiatives that show promise of saving lives from violent crime.

After Secoriea Turner was killed last July, you made an impassioned plea to the community: “These aren’t police officers shooting people on the streets of Atlanta. These are members of the community shooting each other.”

“Enough is enough. Enough is enough.”

You were right on that last point, Mayor Bottoms.

Now it is time to push much harder to address a situation that has been claiming lives here for far too long.

The Editorial Board.

What other cities are doing

Other cities are trying various initiatives to hopefully address the increase in violent crimes. On AJC.com/opinion, you’ll find a compilation of stories examining those efforts. To bring you that perspective, we’ve worked with our partner, the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

ExploreOpinion: What other cities are doing to try and reduce violent crime
ExploreOpinion: City’s crime rise can be reversed once more

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