Opinion: Get the violence in Atlanta under control

Atlanta police investigators process a deadly shooting scene in October 2020. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Atlanta police investigators process a deadly shooting scene in October 2020. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

SUNDAY ISSUE: CRIME’S TOO-HIGH TOLL IN 2020

Let’s banish the word “uptick,” when we talk about crime in Atlanta.

To his credit, councilman Howard Shook made clear he’s had enough.

“A dispute between two parties resulted in the shooting of an innocent 7-year-old girl,” he said of a tragic incident Monday near Phipps Plaza in Buckhead. “We pray for her and her family. I lack the words to adequately convey the despair and anger so many of us feel about this latest and most painful example of the utter lawlessness that defines what it means to live in Atlanta.”

Shook then gave voice to tensions apparently bubbling for some time.

“To the administration, I don’t want to hear the word ‘uptick.’ Stop minimizing our concerns by telling us that ‘crime is up everywhere.’ Spare us from the lie that the steady outflow of our officers isn’t as bad as it is. And please, not another throw-away press conference utterly devoid of game-changing action steps. It will take a lot to turn this around. But here, in descending order, are the three things we need to begin: 1). Leadership; 2). Some Leadership; 3). Any leadership.”

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ response? She issued this statement:

“This is a challenging time in Atlanta and across our country. While we continue to keep public safety as a top priority, senseless gun violence continues to impact innocent lives, like that of the precious 7-year-old girl who was struck by a stray bullet. ... We owe it to our children, as well as to all of our communities, to do everything in our power to eliminate gun violence.”

Citizens deserve more from their mayor.

The facts at hand? The city’s crime statistics can be used to make several arguments, but some things are clear:

  • There have been 155 homicides in the city this year, as of Sunday. That’s compared to 99 last year.
  • COVID-19 restrictions likely resulted in lower property crimes early in the year, driving the overall crime rate down. Crime has been going up, and arrests are going down.

But it’s the regularity with which violence seems to occur that makes this a crisis.

For example, remember July Fourth weekend? Gunfire left five people dead. One of the victims was an 8-year-old girl. That weekend’s final tally was 31 confirmed shooting victims in 11 incidents.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend? Five people dead after a series of stabbings and shootings that occurred in less than 48 hours.

As the Christmas weekend approached, one man was killed and four others were injured in four separate shootings Tuesday evening across Atlanta.

By day two of this holiday weekend, three people were killed, including a 16-year-old girl shot at a downtown hotel.

ExploreChristmas weekend slayings push Atlanta’s homicide count to 22-year high

The terrifying incidents involving children have stood out.

Secoriea Turner died on that July Fourth weekend. She was shot near the burned-out Wendy’s restaurant where Rayshard Brooks had been killed by a police officer. The car she was in encountered a roadblock established by an armed group in control of the area near the restaurant. Investigators have said as many as four people fired shots. But only one suspect has been charged in the case.

A 7-year-old Mableton girl was shot in the head Monday evening while riding with her mother and aunt after an evening of Christmas shopping near Phipps Plaza in Buckhead on Peachtree Road. Kennedy Maxie, who had been at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite in critical condition since the shooting, died on Saturday night. Investigators believe the shooting started as a fight between several men in the parking lot outside Saks Fifth Avenue.

As Shook put it: “It is obvious that the civilian authorities do not control the streets and cannot provide even a token feeling of safety beyond our front doors.”

Continuing to point to the escalation of violence in other cities, while accurate, does little to assuage the concerns of Atlantans. It isn’t enough for Mayor Bottoms to issue a statement. The first responsibility of a city’s leader is the safety and well-being of its citizens.

ExploreCrime unrelenting in Atlanta as 2020 draws to a close

Police morale and staffing have been an issue for months. What is she doing to improve the morale of the department?

The city has an interim police chief. At a time when she speaks of new ways to police, it seems like the department ought to have a permanent leader committed to new strategy.

The mayor might prefer other matters, such as her affordable housing initiative. But the street racing and too many gunshots are being heard by more and more impatient and upset citizens. This is her crisis to confront.

The Editorial Board.

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