Opinion: Giving voice to solutions for violence

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Today, our Opinion pages begin what we hope becomes an ongoing forum in which metro Atlantans can share ideas — and potential solutions — for the rise in crime that our city and region are now enduring. We believe Atlanta — which has led the way for the world on issues like civil rights — can likewise find ways to reduce violence. This idea was influenced in part by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ formation of a new anti-violence advisory group. We believe our Opinion pages also can play a role in this civic task. Look for the Atlanta Forward: Voices Against Violence logo on future installments of this work in print and at AJC.com/opinion.

I’m writing today from my own viewpoint rather than the institutional voice of the Editorial Board on an issue that is personal to me.

Crime, both petty and violent at times, has shadowed my life’s existence, as it has for too many others. If that hasn’t been your experience, you’re blessed.

I grew up in a city with a homicide rate that’s often the nation’s highest. When I looked this week, the numbers placed it among the 15 or 20 deadliest cities in the world.

It’s why my childhood was spent in a house with security bars on the doors and windows. And why my high school had a police substation and security checkpoints 45 years ago. Even so, the campus wasn’t immune to violence.

Caption
STAFF MUG -11-15-19 ATLANTA- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution employee Andre Jackson. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: TYSON HORNE /TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

STAFF MUG -11-15-19 ATLANTA- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution employee Andre Jackson. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)
Caption
STAFF MUG -11-15-19 ATLANTA- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution employee Andre Jackson. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: TYSON HORNE /TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

Credit: TYSON HORNE /TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

I’ve grown up alongside criminals – and mourned victims of violent crime. When my son was barely a teen, I took him to look down into the casket of a young man only a few years older who was shot dead for being in the wrong place at an inopportune time. I wanted my kid to see the risks he would face as a young Black man.

Part of that was giving him “The Talk” too, about what to do when he would inevitably be stopped by police. My stepfather – a disability-retired cop – had given me the same advice. Other cop relatives seconded his counsel.

My work as a journalist has taught me that criminals – and their victims -- come in all colors and from all economic classes. Three accomplished, middle-class women I’ve worked with in newsrooms have been murdered, during home invasions or domestic violence.

I spent years as a reporter in courtrooms, watching defendants receive prison sentences, in one case exceeding 1,000 years. A select few others were sentenced to die.

A schoolmate was executed for killing a lawman. Another spent 35 years in prison for a murder where he played a bit part but wasn’t the triggerman.

All of this informs – maybe even haunts -- my perspective about where the Atlanta region, and the entire U.S. really, are now as violent crime surges. The cost is unacceptable – or should be.

And I believe our Atlanta can help change that.

Yes, we’re in an angry, divided time, and that’s a factor. And a deadly plague’s still with us. But that’s not the whole story.

Many families are broken, with parental guidance lacking, true.

That makes me recall one two-parent home in the neighborhood of my youth. One kid became a police officer; another is in prison for murder. So, the idyllic, ’50s-era home fantasy is not the entire solution, either.

Cutting back the destructive crop that is crime will require a multi-pronged effort.

World-class, firm-but-fair policing is required, as are mental health and family services that can help those in need. Religious and community groups and businesses must be part of the fight, too.

Toward that end, we’re beginning a project today to bring to the public square the viewpoints of those who’ve thought about or have been affected by violent crime.

From a concerned city resident | Opinion: When violent crime strikes very close to home

From a criminology professor and a Grady doctor | Opinion: Public health knowledge important in fight to reduce crime

This idea came in part from the advisory panel that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced in May. This Editorial Board believes our Opinion pages can help facilitate the civic discourse that is needed.

And hopefully, those ideas and viewpoints and personal stories can help make a difference.

We expect that this will be an ongoing effort.

Part of that depends on you, Atlanta.

We want to hear from those who are regularly startled in their homes by the sound of gunfire, or who have known victims. We also plan to bring you insights from those who have studied what other cities are doing to reduce violence.

If you’d like to offer your thoughts, email me at: andre.jackson@ajc.com.

The goal is to share ideas and start a dialogue so that we can help make Atlanta a safer place for all of us.

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