A Look Ahead to (save us all) 2022.
Let's lay down a few markers, between you and me, about what we expect 2022 to do ... to us.
We greet the new year of 2022 in much the same way we met 2021: masked, avoiding crowds, with some trepidation, and grateful to be rid of the last 12 months.
With the killing Thursday in Grove Park and two more last night, Atlanta has 160 homicides for the year; three more than 2020. Atlanta spent about half the year on pace for 170 to 180 murders, nearly double the pre-pandemic low of 99 in 2019. Gun violence remains wacky high — two random people in Our Bar on Edgewood got shot on Thursday night because someone was shooting up a parked car outside and the bullets ricocheted. But things have … I’m not sure stabilized is the right word, but I’m going to use it. Atlanta appears to have hit the downward inflection point on violent crime in October.
Atlanta’s crime problems will remain a major political issue next year, and I intend to continue to look closely at the problem and how the political powers of Georgia position themselves around it.
Note that I did not say “how they will solve it.”
But as long as we’re looking forward, I’m going to make some projections about the things that will hold our attention this year. And some of those projections are going to be just between you — a paying subscriber — and me.
The Four Trials of 2022
I’ve spent some time in the street this year looking at crime. In 2022, I’m probably going to spend as much time in court in Atlanta. Four important court cases will shape news coverage over the year, with one — if it comes — dominating things: Donald Trump.
Trump’s phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is under a criminal investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office. At some point, likely before the November election, Trump is probably going to be indicted on one or more felony charges: criminal solicitation to commit election fraud; intentional interference with performance of election duties; conspiracy to commit election fraud; criminal solicitation; and/or a racketeering charge.
The main question for 2022 is whether the federal government beats Fani Willis to the punch. I sense she’s waiting for the interminable January 6 committee in Congress to do its job before she shakes out a clown car of political fruitcakes on Mitchell Street, but as the year winds on she’s eventually going to have to make a decision.
The Trump case may be giving Willis less heartburn than the indictment of Garrett Rolfe, an Atlanta police officer accused of murder for killing Rayshard Brooks in June 2020. Brooks’ death set off a new wave of destructive protests in the summer of 2020, while the charges against Rolfe and officer Devin Brosnan contributed to a breakdown in the relationship between the police, the public and City Hall.
The Rolfe case complicates the district attorney’s relationship with Atlanta police, who wish she would simply drop the charges. But the voting public remains dearly interested in holding police accountable in use-of-force cases; there’s no getting rid of it without a massive public backlash. Rolfe and Brosnan are likely to face trial sometime this year, though no date has been set yet. Willis’ office won a recusal from prosecuting the case in June; noted prosecutor Pete Skandalakis has been brought in from outside to handle the case in her wake.
The Brooks killing created chaos in the streets. Armed gunmen took over the corner of University Avenue and Pryor Street for three weeks. On July 4, gunmen killed Secoriea Turner, an eight-year-old in the back seat of a car whose driver was running the gunmen’s illegal roadblock.
Julian Jamal Conley and Jerrion Amari McKinney are accused of being those gunmen. Both will face trial in 2022. The case is explosive. Prosecutors accuse the gunmen of being members of a Bloods gang set expressing solidarity with Rayshard Brooks, who prosecutors will portray as an active gang member at the time of his death. The prosecution of Conley and McKinney may thus serve as a backdoor defense for Rolfe by smearing the victim in that case. It also potentially exposes the culpability of Atlanta police in Turner’s death by showing how police officers essentially ceded control of the street to an armed mob. The evidence and testimony will impact the substantial civil case against the city in Turner’s death.
The fourth major trial isn’t a singular case: it’s the amalgamation of all the RICO cases Willis’ office is bringing to bear against organized crime in Atlanta — specifically street gangs. Two sets of cases tie Atlanta’s music industry to street crimes, with rapper YFN Lucci in a Fulton County jail cell today on a murder charge connected to one RICO case. The label of rap superstar Young Thug — YSL — shows up in a lot of the indictment documentation in that and other RICO cases.
The question for Willis in 2022 will be whether these RICO cases actually envelop more major movers and shakers in the Atlanta music scene, and how attention to the court cases shapes street violence.
2022: The Year of the Political Primal Scream
So. What do we do about all of this crime?