I attended the second Town Hall for Mayor Dickens, this time at Peachtree Road Methodist. In contrast to the not-quite-filled pews of Cascade Methodist, Peachtree Road Methodist was standing-room only. The Mayor acknowledged the Councilmembers in the room- I don’t remember an acknowledgment like that in Cascade, but I definitely could be wrong. The most striking difference in this space versus the other was the element of time. Whereas Dr. Richey asserted a hard stop at 7:30pm (repeatedly) and asked folks who had questions who were still standing in line to move to the side of the central front area to pose their questions directly to City Directors/ Commissioners, etc, the folks in Buckhead got to pose all their questions and then the Mayor and others responded (albeit rapid fire) to all of them. It was kind of remarkable. The evening ended and I looked at my watch at 7:41pm.
I’ve stated before that the Mayor has the gift of retail politics most campaign consultants and staff would salivate at working with, and this evening was a brilliant display of that. I wish he did more of this. He does it very well.
As an aside- the ability to read the room, respond in meaningful ways, and to guide conversations in a way that you wish them to move is a gift anyone can enjoy watching, and this man’s got that in spades. His charisma is charming, he effectively conveys humility where appropriate, and he doesn’t seem to shrink from the hard questions.
That said, he isn’t going to have a Town Hall in Grant Park anymore, and I have to wonder if the APD’s previous usage of an LRAD influenced that decision. One will never know. EDIT: The next town hall will be at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 545 Hill Street SE, Atlanta, GA 30312, on Oct. 27th from 6-7:30pm.
By some stroke of luck I followed Council Member Mary Norwood in- directly behind her and an entourage of folks who knew her. She expressed frustration from the parking situation- there was a film crew who was taking up SIGNIFICANT space in the GENEROUS parking of Peachtree Road’s parking lots and something else had impacted parking/ access to the event. Someone with her pointed out that ‘if someone were cynical they might say this was purposeful’ but to her optimism’s credit- Norwood cast that idea aside and asserted someone probably just hadn’t asked the right questions.
Lord, I appreciate any one who recognizes the power of a well founded question- from your mouth to God’s ears, Councilwoman!
I’ve been inside this particular room of Peachtree Road before- the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. had a leadership retreat or something there years ago. It’s a generous space, and the church sanctuary can hold hundreds. It was the location of previous Governor Zell Miller’s funeral, which my husband and I attended as part of the inaugural class of his namesake’s leadership class. The sanctuary seated three or four previous Presidents- I can’t remember now how many and they were far too far in front of my seat to count. All of this to say- the church is large and can accomodate a crowd of this size fairly easily.
The questions posed this evening were solid- infrastructure questions about roads, watershed, MARTA, and (as expected) the police. I can confirm my suspicions about Buckhead in my last piece were spot-on- Buckhead wants more police presence and more police in Atlanta as a whole. Fascinatingly- I got to watch Interim Chief Schierbaum interweave the Cop City issue into providing policing to the crowd. I wish I’d taped it- it was really subtle.
Basically, he made the case that if you want continued better policing in the area- the kind Buckhead recently got from a homicide that occurred on Peachtree Battle- then he made the case that police officers needed to be trained in PIT maneuvers without having to drive an hour down the road to the state training center in Forsyth (one wonders what he might think of how far the officers have to drive from Valdosta, Waynesboro, and Albany, but I guess the problem with Atlanta is we all hate to leave the perimeter). The Interim Chief made a valiant effort to convey to the citizens in Buckhead that the police were doing everything in their power to address crime. He also didn’t mention anything about the recent two deaths as a result of Georgia State Patrol officers performing a PIT maneuver on Sept. 30th.
There was also an interweaving of emphasizing the importance of cameras to ensuring safety- this is sort of an interesting slight of hand. It’s my understanding that the Atlanta Police Foundation provides these cameras to the City of Atlanta, not that our APD or City of Atlanta government own them or their data. I’m not much of a tin hat kinda girl myself, but the fact that the APF has 3,000 cameras all watching us in this Big Brother screen off Peachtree gives me the hee bee gee bees. The fact that the foundation that supports officers is also running the cameras that are worn on their bodies is also more than a bit troubling to me as a conflict of interest. But in the current state of the city, with our inability to hire recruits as quickly as we need to, we are relying on cameras more and more than community policing, sadly.
It was also striking how many times the Mayor and the Interim Chief of Police asserted that the crime problem was with the courts- a certain aspect of a revolving door putting repeat offenders on the street. That seems like an interesting assertion I’d like to investigate further. I wondered if it had anything to do with the criminal justice reform Governor Nathan Deal enacted-making it harder to convict for lesser violent crimes. I truly don’t know. This is something I’ll need to ask more questions about and and do more research before I can fully offer any opinion.
What I do know is that the Buckhead Bettys and Bills were NOT yet happy with the crime situation there. And honestly- like the woman who posed the question about mental health in the Cascade Town Hall- I appreciated some questioners’ nuances. The Mayor gave them hard numbers- as did the Interim Chief, but as one blonde woman stated toward the end- things don’t ‘feel’ safer. And that has to be difficult for these poor white folks to understand, right? My fair skinned brethren just have never had to deal with crime before- homicides and drug busts are things that happened in other parts of the city, but not Peachtree Battle. To her credit- the blonde asserted that there were shot casings in her neighbors’ yard.
It made me reflect on the casings my own husband called into report last year. Ours weren’t from a homicide, but from some teenagers popping off rounds of a handgun in the middle of the street. We called them in because each gun has a signature- the imprint a gun makes on the shell as it leaves the barrel is unique to each gun and can be traced in other crimes. I wrote about this in my series on APD because the crime lab analyzes this. It’s cool stuff, but honestly I think any redneck with a rifle or homie with a hand gun can tell you this. My bet is Buckhead Betty just doesn’t want them in her yard, nor should her landscaper be held at gunpoint again for his tools. I get that. I hope anyone can.
The Mayor should get points for presentation, as should Misters Donald and English. They didn’t leave the man hanging this time- they spoke up when the Mayor said something off and tried to cut off a question when the person posing it pushed back. This time the central staging area featured the Mayor, COO, and Interim Chief Schierbaum. It definitely came across as less bro-ey, and for that I’m grateful. This time Rickey Bevington was the moderator, and I genuinely like Rickey- she posed good questions and seemed to be unflappable throughout. I have followed her on Twitter for a while and you should too.
More than anything, it was clear that Buckhead wasn’t playing, and weren’t going to tolerate the Mayor’s misuse of their time. I gotta say, it felt like a room full of Karens, but I’d be damned if they didn’t ask questions I wanted the man to answer myself!
I also want to say that their nuance also extended to the APD- the Interim Chief kept emphasizing how much the crowd should thank the police and the person who pushed back on the Mayor- a white guy, middle aged (I probably didn’t have to tell you that though, did I?) pointed out rightly that this whole room supported the police- in fact they wanted more of them! That was clearly what they were asking of the Mayor and Interim Chief- these aren’t folks who needed to be reminded to ‘thank’ their officers- they were already doing that!
In fact, if anyone needed a reminder of how small a town Atlanta really is, I sat down randomly in the third row- wedging myself in a single seat since I had the car I share with my husband and he didn’t get off of work until 5pm. Lo and behold, it was one of my classmates from our Citizens Police Academy! And to her great credit- she stood up and asked for better police cars and facilities for the officers! She referenced her two ride alongs and (like me) she was in a car that had badly functioning technology and wanted better for the officers.
I really appreciated this evening. In all honesty, it was nice to see such an engaged room and one that wasn’t going to let the Mayor and his team off. Instead- they demanded better pensions for the police and fire and rescue folks, protected bike lanes, and there was even an individual who asked about solar! It was so refreshing I almost forgive them for their anti-density antics and penchant for single family homes. Oh, and their general fear of the waterboys- unconscious bias is something our city could significantly invest in as a means of training, honestly.
I mean, if our city doesn’t densify where it can now, we’re going to miss the opportunity to grow and address housing costs. And living closer together MIGHT cause these Karens to fear young Black men a little less, I’m just over here hoping!
But I’ll give the Mayor credit where it is due- he stood there and took it. Answered all their questions and offered some further insight into the future as well, which was decidedly missing from Cascade. He named he’ll be making an announcement next week regarding police vehicles and he emphasized again that there is no hospital south of I 20. In both town halls AMC’s closing has come up as a topic of conversation. I expect there to be something in the works there- which is deserved and would be meaningful to address the needs of folks on the south side of the city.
There’s more I could share here, but the hour is late and I do have work later today.