Protect the wealthy! Atlanta proposes $1.6M plan for private police force for affluent suburb amidst crime wave
The US has seen some serious polarization over the question of defunding the police and dismantling police departments in a number of big cities in the wake of the killing of George Floyd earlier this year in Minneapolis. The debate saw Right and Left forces engaging in debates and the Democratic Party particularly saw itself divided over the effectiveness of the idea of defunding the police.
But before the controversy died down, the city of Atlanta has seen a fresh development as its city council proposed a plan worth $1.6 million to set up a police force in one of the wealthiest suburbs just days after a seven-year-old girl was fatally shot.
Kennedy Maxie was hit by a stray bullet on December 21 after she had gone out for Christmas shopping with her family at the Phipps Plaza mall in Buckhead — an affluent neighborhood in Uptown Atlanta. The bullet passed through the family’s car and hit Kennedy in the back of her head, the police said. The child was in critical condition before dying on Saturday, December 26.
Hours before Kennedy’s death, a 16-year-old girl named Kalecia Williams was shot dead by a boy with whom she was staying at a hotel in downtown Atlanta.
Kennedy’s death has put Atlanta’s administrators under question as the city has seen a massive surge in crimes in 2020. Atlanta Police confirmed to NBC News that the girl’s shooting was one of a record-shattering number of homicides that the department is investigating in the current year.
“As of the end of the week 52 reporting period, we are at 154 homicides compared with 99 for the same period of 2019,” Atlanta Police Officer Steve Avery said in a statement. “That is an increase of 61%.” The police later announced that they have a suspect in the shooting of Kennedy and issued an arrest warrant for Daquan Reed, 24, 11 Alive reported.
Responding to the tragedy, the Atlanta city council on Monday, December 28, announced that it will allocate $125,000 of their municipal funds to the Buckhead Security Plan — a proposal to have a private police force in the business district which is often called the "Beverly Hills of the East/South" in reference to the upscale California city. The Buckhead Coalition assembled the proposal which it is confident would “enhance public safety in Buckhead”.
The plan also has the support of the Atlantic Police Foundation, the Atlanta Police Department, the Fulton County Commission and several community groups besides a member of the administration of Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s Democratic mayor.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is serving her first term since January 2018, has faced growing criticism in the wake of the rise in crimes in the capital of the Peach State. Council member Howard Shook, who represents the area where Lenox Square and Phipps malls fall, was not happy with the mayor’s handling of things. In a statement issued last week, he said: “It is obvious that civilian authorities do not control the streets and cannot provide even a token feeling of safety beyond our front doors.”
“To the administration, I don’t want to hear the word 'uptick'. Stop minimizing our concerns by telling us that 'crime is up everywhere',” he said, adding: “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.”
Mayor Bottoms under pressure over growing crime rates
Bottoms has also faced a backlash from the local residents and has been accused of not displaying enough leadership in a year when the city has seen the most murders in over two decades. Looting and rioting were common occurrences in the wake of the deaths of Floyd and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and other Black people at the hands of White police officers.
Mayor Bottoms defended herself at a press conference on Tuesday, December 29, saying she knows her responsibility and takes it “very seriously”. She was accompanied by two leaders of the local police department and they said they were working hard to identify and issue warrants for a suspect in the Kennedy shooting case.
“If there’s something we’re not doing and we haven’t enacted or should be doing better, my ego is small enough to ask what we need to do to improve things,” she said. Bottoms, who went on the defensive over the long weekend, has also responded to Shook’s remarks saying highlighting the rise in violence across the US is “not an abdication of responsibility, but an acknowledgment of the widespread severity of this issue”.
“If there are solutions that we have not explored and enacted, I welcome the suggestions, as I am always open to making the city that I am raising my children in a safer place for us all,” the mother of four said.
The mayor has also tried to back the police, which under the leadership of interim chief Rodney Bryant, is also under immense pressure. She said the cops have had "significant leads" in the investigation in the Kennedy killing case and requested people to give information "that will lead to the arrests of the careless and heartless people responsible for Kennedy's death".
In June, when protests calling for defunding of the police gained momentum throughout the US, Lance Bottoms told the Atlanta City Council that calls for the defunding of the police were actually reassessing what gets funded. “The intent of this movement, as best as I can assess, really is about reallocating funds toward social services and support and community enhancement initiatives,” she said.
In July, the 50-year-old mayor spoke positively about the Atlanta Police Department at a press conference in the wake of the shooting of another eight-year-old girl called Secoriea Turner near the Wendy’s where Brooks was fatally shot in June.
Dismissing speculation that the police officers do not have the backing of the leaders since a number of them were either fired or later charged in the wake of incidents across the city, she said: "There have been these questions about whether or not I support our officers. I continue to support our officers. I've never stopped supporting our officers. I appreciate the job that they do.”
It was also in the wake of the killing of Brooks that added fuel to the fire that raged after Floyd’s brutal death that Lance Bottoms unveiled a series of changes aimed at drastically changing ways in which the city’s police department uses forces, The New York Times reported.
“De-escalation techniques will now be required before an officer employs deadly force, said Keisha Lance Bottoms, the city’s first-term mayor, and officers will be “duty-bound to intercede” when they see other officers engaging in unreasonable applications of force. The city’s 2,000-plus officers also will be ordered to use only the “amount of objectively reasonable force” to protect themselves and others so that they can make an arrest or bring an incident under control,” the report said.