Atlanta – police and citizens – draw on King’s teachings in show of loveA line of 17 police motorcycle riders line up waiting for protest in Piedmont Park to end (Photo by Maria Saporta)
By Maria Saporta
A caravan of 17 police motorcycles with flashing blue lights rode into parking area of the Midtown Promenade on Thursday evening.
What was going on?
An officer told me they had accompanied protesters from Five Points to Piedmont Park, and they were hanging back a couple of blocks away until the protest ended or until they were needed.
“A real show of force,” I told him.
“No, it’s a show of love,” he answered.
Looking back at the events of the past several days, I can honestly say that Atlanta is living up to its ideals and coming into its own.
For several years, we’ve seen senseless killings of black men by police officers in other communities – giving rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. In many of those communities the police force does not look like the community. Fear, anger, suspicion and paranoia can quickly turn a bad situation into a horrible one.
Then Dallas happened. A sniper actually seemed to be using white police officers as target practice.
Under that backdrop, I can’t help but feel pride in how the Black Lives Matter movement in Atlanta and how the Atlanta Police Department have handled the situations that have come their way.
First, let me give credit to both Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Police Chief George Turner. They showed both restraint and respect to the protestors – knowing that civil disobedience is is at the core of Atlanta’s DNA.
They also were wise to draw a line that the protestors not be allowed on the Interstate – one of the most dangerous moves protestors can make – putting both their own lives and the lives of drivers in danger.
For the most part, protestors seemed to accept those boundaries – also living true to Atlanta’s place in history.
But most importantly, people on all sides of this equation kept referring back to the philosophy of Atlanta’s legendary leader Martin Luther King Jr., who found a way to change the world through non-violence.
His youngest daughter, Bernice King, reminded us of King’s message of non-violence – while acknowledging the concerns of the protestors. The senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King used to preach, urged people to work through their differences.
That was not all.
Two years ago, Atlanta was insightful enough to open the Center for Civil and Human Rights as a way to not only remember our special place in history but to have a place where we can work on our modern-day issues of human rights.
It was no coincidence that the protestors chose to gather at the Center on Friday night to express their grief for the killing of Philando Castile in the St. Paul, Minnesota, and for Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as the tragedy in Dallas where five policemen were killed and seven other people were wounded.
We are so fortunate that we have created one more anchor in our city to remind us that we stand for a mature, compassionate and respectful approach to resolving our differences. We have other institutions – the King Center, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site of the National Park Service and the Carter Center – that also help keep us grounded in core values.
More telling is to look at our track record.
In 2015, the Atlanta police fired their weapons just nine times in more than 1.5 million interactions with citizen, according to a report on WSB-TV Friday night. That is incredible and worth repeating. Atlanta police fired their weapons only nine times in 2015 in 1.5 million interactions with citizens.
We have a force of nearly 2,000 policemen who have been trained in the art of restraint. We do not have a trigger-happy police force. Under the leadership of Police Chief Turner, APD has been focused more on community policing initiatives – looking to bridge the divides in Atlanta.
There is another ingredient to Atlanta’s magic. For the past 13 years, Atlanta’s business and philanthropic community has been working in concert with the Atlanta Police Department through the Atlanta Police Foundation.
After supporting efforts to install security cameras and license plate readers and offer Crime Stoppers’ rewards, the Atlanta Police Foundation is working with the Department to help provide housing for police officers in communities most in need of improved public safety – such as English Avenue and Vine City.
The Foundation also is planning to build a youth center in that community in an attempt to prevent young people from entering a life of crime.
While surfing the web, I read the words and saw the photos of a fellow Atlantan – Bonnie Moret, who wrote: “Atlanta: A Peaceful Beacon of Hope for Our Nation.”
After the Ferguson riots in 2014, I wrote a column that Atlanta had a responsibility to share King’s teachings with the rest of the nation.
As the world seems to be getting crazier every day, it is comforting to know Atlanta is rediscovering its moral center.
Yes we can reclaim our place as a city of peace, compassion, respect, and most importantly, a city of love.