Atlanta mayor, City Council endorse police “transformation.” Details and timeline yet to come.
A scene last month from the Wendy’s where on June 12 an Atlanta police officer fatally shot Rayshard Brooks. Credit: Kelly Jordan
By Maggie Lee
Atlanta’s political leaders are having to walk a fine line just now on policing.
It was too much when an eight-year-old girl was shot and killed in southeast Atlanta Saturday night.
She was in her family’s car in a parking lot across from the burnt-out Wendy’s that’s been the center of a small area more-or-less occupied and controlled by protestors since an Atlanta police officer shot Rayshard Brooks there on June 12. Atlanta hadn’t exactly endorsed the occupation, but they didn’t shut it down either.
However, city police and sanitation workers finished cleaning up the Wendy’s lot and shutting it down for good on Monday.
“An 8-year-old girl was killed last night because her mother was riding down the street,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Sunday, putting into motion the final Wendy’s closure and pleading for folks to help the police find the people who shot Secoriea Turner.
Bottoms and most on City Council have been saying for weeks that they do want policing transformation or reimagination of some sort, and that Black people cannot continue to die at the hands of police.
So there’s been a tension: leaders do want police even as they want transformation. Despite calls to defund APD, there’s been no binding measure approved to cut or even sequester police funds. Yet leaders also hear plenty of constituents calling for serious change.
And add to that late-arriving Monday news: the state doesn’t think Atlanta’s doing the right things and is going to send National Guard.
A few hours after the Wendy’s clearance started on Monday, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced that he would deploy as many as 1,000 National Guard troops after a weekend in Atlanta that saw 22 injuries and four deaths in six different shootings, as well as vandalism of the state patrol’s Grant Park headquarters and shooting fireworks at it.
At the Wendy’s “city officials have failed to quell ongoing violence,” Kemp’s executive order calling a state of emergency reads in part.
But both the mayor and Council started making police reform moves soon after Brooks was shot and as demonstrations against police brutality happened all over the country.
The mayor named a Use of Force Advisory Council, which has already come up with 10 recommendations for the short term to improve things in Atlanta and the mayor says she’s acted on three.
The Council’s big move was to approve the idea in principle of holding $73 million of the Atlanta Police Department’s budget, and to release it in steps through the end of the year as APD made reports and changes. The idea was to give some urgency and speed to policing reforms.
But if anything shows the tension over policing policy, it’s that a separate vote the same day in Council went the other way, when a majority of Council voted down the budget amendment that would make the $73 million resolution real.
And during a call with Council on Thursday, Bottoms showed no interest in Council’s idea.
Bottoms called it “slashing” the police budget and asked City Council President Felicia Moore if that’s what the Council president wants. Moore said the legislation would “sequester” the money.
Bottoms said her administration is already working on transforming the police department, and it’s already happening regardless of any decisions that Council makes.
But it didn’t sound like a six-month-long process.
“This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, but we are going to move as quickly as we can with those things that we can,” Bottoms told Council.
District 3 Councilman Antonio Brown has publicly criticized the mayor and accused her of rarely being out in the streets with protestors. On Thursday, he spoke up for Council’s sequestration resolution.
“This was important to ensure that while we reimagine public safety, that we also protect the community’s trust in ensuring that we move into a place of action, where we stop talking about the issues and we really work to address them,” Brown said.
Council was set on Monday to vote on a resolution asking Atlanta police to adopt the “8 can’t wait” use-of-force principles.
(Those are: Banning chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring de-escalation, requiring warning before shooting, exhausting all alternatives before shooting, duty to intervene when other officers use excessive force, banning shooting at moving vehicles, requiring a use-of-force continuum and requiring comprehensive reporting.)
Mayor Bottoms said Thursday that the APD already follows seven of those principles and is working on an eighth.
But Council’s deliberations on the eight were re-scheduled for Tuesday, as a relatively new voice joined the debate too: folks who say they stand with the police and that APD needs more funding, not less.
More than 1,000 people left messages in City Council’s voicemail box ahead of its Monday meeting — which is serving as a socially distant form of public comment during COVID-19.
All those comments are being played aloud for Council and the public.
And few hours into it, it’s clear that police funding supporters have found City Council’s phone number.
That’s a flip from just a few weeks ago, when advocates calling to defund the police seemed to be the only ones with Council’s phone number.
There’s a lot of interest in the question, but it’s not clear when exactly anyone will get answers on new Atlanta Police Department policies.
Gov. Kemp’s July 6 executive order
City Council Resolution 20-R-4068 of June 15 to release police funding in steps