Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is responding to the shooting of a 7-year-old girl in Buckhead and community outrage over crime by decrying “gun violence” and saying she welcomes suggestions for “solutions that we have not explored and enacted.”
“We owe it to our children, as well as to all of our communities, to do everything in our power to eliminate gun violence,” Bottom said in a written statement provided via chief administration spokesperson Lydia Sermons.
The apparently random Dec. 21 of the girl as she rode in a car past the Phipps Plaza mall caps a year of gun violence and other crime. Earlier this month, officials and private organizations developed a “Buckhead Security Plan” that calls for beefing up tactics.
Though it was developed with some administration input via Chief Operating Officer Jon Keen, the plan also politically challenges some of Bottoms’ less crackdown-oriented policing policies and calls on her to personally, publicly denounce crime. Buckhead-area City Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit and Howard Shook, who also were involved in the plan’s creation, called on Bottoms to do more in the wake of the girl’s shooting. In a scathing written statement, Shook accused Bottoms’ administration of a lack of leadership and “minimizing our concerns” by noting a rise in certain crime rates citywide and nationwide, among other complaints.
Bottoms has yet to comment about the “Buckhead Security Plan,” but her statement about the shooting appeared to address Shook’s statement.
“Citing a surge in violence across the country is not an abdication of responsibility, but an acknowledgment of the widespread severity of this issue,” said Bottoms. “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.”
Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant, at a Dec. 22 press conference about the girl’s shooting, made similar comments about the nationwide nature of the gun-violence problem, which he called “unique” in his experience and fundamentally based on the “proliferation of weapons.”
The “Buckhead Security Plan” does not contain any fundamentally new policing ideas. Instead, it calls for better funding and coordination for existing private and public programs and tactics. The plan was developed privately — with the press barred from covering its planning meetings — by elected officials, private business and community organizations, the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Police Foundation; the team did not include any independent criminologists or police-reform advocates.
A political tension underlying the plan is Bottoms’ rocky relationship with APD, which is said to be suffering morale and staffing problems, in a year of Black Lives Matter and police-reform protests. A key political moment was Bottoms’ response to the June police killing of Rayshard Brooks in Peoplestown, which led to the resignation of locally popular Police Chief Erika Shields and involved a temporary tolerance of armed protesters near the shooting site. That tolerance ended with another shooting of a child in a passing vehicle, as 8-year-old Secoriea Turner was shot to death in that area.
Bottoms’ rapid condemnation of the officers who killed Brooks reportedly led to other officers calling out sick as a protest. In Buckhead, Bottoms’ approach escalated crime concerns among many community leaders and, in its most extreme form, helped to trigger renewed talk of separate cityhood for Buckhead.
Some of the organizations involved in writing the “Buckhead Security Plan” earlier this year issued statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the plan itself apparently alludes to that movement and its protests only negatively as reducing respect for the police and as “civil unrest” that could be a “threat” to the plan itself. The online version of the plan originally included a photo of a White woman holding a sign reading “Enough” as if it were from an anti-crime protest; in fact, the image came from a stock collection of photos apparently taken at a Black Lives Matter protest in London about the police killing of George Floyd. The photo was deleted from the document after the Reporter informed Cookerly Public Relations, the firm promoting the plan, about its origins.
The following is Bottoms’ full statement about the shooting:
“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 last night [Dec. 21]. We owe it to our children, as well as to all of our communities, to do everything in our power to eliminate gun violence. Citing a surge in violence across the country 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.”