Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Politics of crime

Karsh 's post touched on something I had been thinking about regarding crime in this city.  Karsh says:
It was yet another act of senseless violence, but what was needling me was why this particular murder is getting so much coverage and public organization. This happened in East Atlanta, a quickly gentrifying area of the city. Now I'm all for urban progress, but let's be honest here: middle-class people suddenly moving into neighborhoods were crime rates are traditionally high kinda spells a recipe for a "crime wave".
While calling Grant Park East Atlanta needles me, I half agree with Karsh.  Crime in certain parts of Atlanta has been ignored and accepted by the powers that be for quite some time.  Just drive down Boulevard some night.  The Standard is about a block away from the Azar, which in high school was the really ghetto place to buy alcohol if Buddy's or Rocky's wouldn't sell to you.  You only went down Memorial if you had no other options.  Of course, Capitol Homes and Grady Homes were still around and Grant Park has improved immensely in the last 10 years, but it still isn't a huge surprise that something happened there.  

Where I disagree with Karsh and some commenters is that this means concern is less valid or that neighborhood perceptions are unfounded.  I have spoken to people who have lived in Grant Park or East Atlanta for 5-10 years, who say things are getting worse.  Hiding behind the "gentrification card" misses the big picture of why this particular crime got so much attention -not because of the location, but the extreme nature of crime.  Someone was shot after he complied with all the robber's demands, in what was first reported as execution style.  It was completely unnecessary and capricious.  

What freaks people out the most about crime reports is the classic fear that they could be minding their own business, and someone would hurt them.  It stokes an unchecked paranoia that is hard to shake, and this particular crime touched that nerve hard.   The guy wasn't buying drugs, or doing anything wrong, he was just trying to earn a living.  Community reaction shouldn't get dismissed just because it takes place in a gentrifying area.  Crimes like these are what get people jumping at any sound at the front door.

Karsh did skirt around another issue that is worth mentioning, however.  As we've both said, crime isn't new in this city, and lots of communities have been sounding the alarm for a long time.  It is completely understandable if there is a backlash when crime against middle-class whites gets more attention than crime against poor black Atlantans.  Practically nothing came out of the Kathryn Johnston case aside from some less-than-half-assed reforms at the Police Department.  Organizers would be well advised to reach out to other Atlanta communities that have been shouting about crime for years.  (Somehow I missed this event dispite signing up on the email list.  I guess I need to check my Facebook email more often, but still, what was the point of signing up on the website?)

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