A Night On Edgewood Avenue
One sixteen-hour view of the hottest street in Atlanta, a year after its most dangerous day.
It’s 6 p.m. on July 3, and I’m at Joystick, my happy place.
For the next 10 hours or so, I’m going to be chronicling the madness I am sure will unfold on Edgewood Avenue tonight — madness that is already upon us. For this is Independence Day weekend, and the Hawks are in the finals. People have already started pouring into the bars and nightclubs, lightly dressed and lightly inebriated, to drink their fill of the moment.
I will bear witness in a series of updates to this post as an exercise in narrative journalism.
One year ago, Atlanta’s Edgewood club district exploded in violence. Someone doing burnouts at the corner of Auburn Ave. and Jesse Hill clipped a couple of cars and a bystander. A fight broke out, which turned into gunfire, wounding a dozen people. Two died.
That violence, along with the murder of Secoriea Turner a few hours earlier, awakened Atlanta to the shift in tone for summer nights here. Overnight, Atlanta became perceived as a far more dangerous place. Edgewood Avenue in particular absorbed the stigma. Between the pandemic and the fear, some businesses closed their doors.
There’s no sign of that in the street right now.
I’m with Kimberly Wallace of the Connecting the Dots podcast, talking about gentrification and poverty around here.
“There are so many homeless people,” she said. “That house over on the corner on Boulevard is $1.4 million. I’m like, who lives there? Because it doesn’t make any sense to me. You have zero property. The train is close, but you have to walk through that park. It’s a really weird neighborhood.”
And that it is. The juxtaposition between wealth and poverty in the four blocks between the highway and Boulevard is about as stark as anything you can find in America. The 404 Boys stunting on bicycles roll by chic club goers waiting in a deep line to get into Cafe Circa. A security guard has a nine mil handgun on his hips with a roll of shotgun shells on his leg as semi-ironic decoration.
Across the street, I ran into Aiesha. Yes, that Aiesha.
Aiesha’s been chronically homeless in Atlanta as long as any social services worker here can remember. She makes everyone’s top-ten list as a target for help. She’s high-energy, hyperbolic … but maybe not high today. She’s gained weight — it looks like the pandemic hits differently. For most of the time I’ve known her she’s been cocaine frail. Today she looks like a suburban housewife, setting aside how she’s hitting up tourists for change across the street from an infamous trap house near a park where people deal drugs.
She squealed when she recognized me.
“You’re the guy who helps people!” she said. A big hug. I wanted to tell her no. Because I’m in no position to help her today. She doesn’t have a phone. I told her I’d find her later tonight and check in.
It’s 8 p.m. and everyone on Edgewood has game.
“It’s friendly, but everybody has a plan to get money,” a new friend said, sitting outside of Joystick. It’s true enough. In an hour, I’ve talked to three aspiring rappers, entrepreneurs at a pop-up store next to a coffee shop, promoters, bloggers and more.
The woman running the pop-up is 28. She moved here in January.
Hustle. That’s Edgewood tonight.
“God does not put me in places where the energy isn’t going to let me make money,” said Lana Colon, selling gems and precious stones at the pop up next to Docent Coffee.
“Hey baby, I’ve got edibles,” a young woman said to me. She was parked on the street, in a car with out-of-state plates. I should have said yes. I’ve always wanted to try them, but “George Chidi arrested after a munchie run gone bad” is exactly the headline I would expect of that.
There’s a line at Slutty Vegan. There’s been a line at Slutty Vegan since 2 p.m.
I’m sitting next to two young women discussing a trip to Spain and Amsterdam. There’s a Slutty Vegan in Spain, apparently.
The image of excess and consumption continually bumps up against the people who can’t hustle, or hustle poorly. A flying wedge of motorcyclists left a man in a wheelchair scrambling to get out of the road. Black livery SUVs disgorge people in designer clothing left to gingerly sidestep a man without housing, curled up in the corner of a inset storefront window.
Never mind how many people around me are simply fronting. The average income for a white household in the city of Atlanta is over $80,000. For Black households it’s under $30,000. One has to wonder how many 30K millionaires surround me tonight.
“It’s Atlanta. It’s always the weekend,” one woman said to me. She wasn’t interested in a long conversation, standing in line to a club. At 48 I’m an old man here, an outlier amid bare legs and midriffs, sagging skinny pants, Fendi, gold chains and concert T-shirts.
Young Quise is drawing in chalk outside Our Bar, while another fellow is crowd training a rambunctious pit bull. The dog might look intimidating given the crowd, but the tail wagging gives the game away. “Is that the puppy you used to have?” someone says. A half a dozen other people all shout “Oh!” at once, like surprised uncles introduced to a first grader.
Quise is a rapper. He’s trying to be a rapper. He also goes by Yayo. I’m going to ignore that for a moment.
“I just want to see everybody have a good time,” he said. “No BS. No anything.” He’s referring to the potential for violence tonight. “Enjoy the weekend.”
It’s 10:30. Hustle! All day. All night. A fellow tried selling me on aluminum business cards, which honestly are kind of fly. Subscription plan. A bit more than my cards are worth, but only a bit. He’s got a business, I think. His phone number has a 313 area code. Detroit.
He was standing outside CRU Lounge, a venue for up and coming rappers in Atlanta. Three men were arguing outside about who put their hands where and whether someone should be allowed into the club. “I watch your vehicles,” one said. “I know where to find you.”
This is perfectly normal.
By that, I mean its exactly the kind of nonsense that happens outside of clubs literally anywhere, notwithstanding the fact that he was arguing with someone armed for bear. Amid the spirited argument, two pit bull puppies slept, oblivious.
The Hawks down by 16 with seven minutes to play is probably tamping down some of people’s worst impulses. The overwhelming police presence is probably tamping down the rest. Atlanta police have a dozen cars on the street, blocking part of it off. Some are in tactical gear. The zone commander will likely be on scene soon.
The fellow arguing about the club policy isn’t happy about it.
“This is history, son. This is Martin Luther King’s hood, son. It’s his hood, shorty. Understand what’s going on, bruh,” he said, pointing at the cops. “These folks want us to keep killing ourselves. They want gentrification to come in and clean ourselves out. They’re not doing nothing about nobody getting murdered, nobody getting shot or nothing. They’re just harassing people who live in the community, bro. I’m telling you what’s going on, bro.”
I spent some time talking with Chuke Williams II, who was helping run the pop-up and … well, frankly, a lot of things. He has a broad portfolio. It turns out that he’s a Paideia kid with two degrees from Vanderbilt and a deep commitment to improving Atlanta and Edgewood, particularly for the Black people that get marginalized by gentrification.
Invest Atlanta dropped $1.45 million on Edgewood Avenue in February to finance the redevelopment of about 8,000 square feet of office and community space for local businesses and nonprofits. Chuke is running ops.
“Business is building,” he said. “We launched during the pandemic.” He hasn’t been taking a salary, working odd jobs while pouring most of his energy into the project.
“Whatever it takes.”
The Hawks aren’t going to make it. Let’s see what that does to the street mood.
It’s 12:30 a.m. and the answer is, apparently, nothing.
“We’re used to being let down,” said Amos, one of a couple dozen motorcyclists gathered at the eastern end of the Edgewood district. “We’re just thankful that we made it that far. … If they would have won it would have been a little more lively, but morale now is about the same.”
Edgewood is subdued, relatively speaking. Security at the clubs say things are actually a little slow — that tomorrow will be much livelier, perhaps. One complained bitterly about the street barricades.
“There’s less foot traffic. It’s like they’re trying to find a way to hurt us,” he said. “Without the barricades, we would have to hold the door to keep people out, with a line down the street.”
I don’t think that sentiment — either about the foot traffic or the barricades — is widely held. Most I’ve spoken to tonight have been calling it a banner night, expecting things to grow with the end of the game.
A few lines have returned, and some of the late-night places are going to start opening in a few hours. (The idea that there’s a bar on Edgewood that doesn’t bother opening its doors before 1 a.m. speaks volumes.)
The streets are occupied with stunt bicyclists, cops and the occasional drunken 20-something being carried along by friends to whizz behind a light pole while friends provide the bro screen from curious police officers.
One thing worth noting. Half the street is strapped.
“There’s always shit going on on Edgewood,” Amos said. “Right now, all of us …” He didn’t finish the sentence, instead lifting his shirt to expose a handgun. The two fellows on bikes next to him did the same, as casually as one might fish out a cell phone. “… because shit happens, and I’m surprised that you’re not carrying.”
I told him journalists have to be noncombatants when something goes down.
Amos lives in Buckhead. He’s 41. “The people who have too much pride make things happen. If we’re in the spot and I step on someone’s shoes, I say I’m sorry, my bad brother. … because I’m trying to go home. It’s the young people who haven’t got anything to lose.”
The bikers take care of each other and are ignored by the police in turn, he said. “It’s a brotherhood.”
So, of course someone has to shoot someone.
Right around 1 a.m., I left Joystick, turned left and saw yellow crime scene tape going up. An ambulance rolled up about five minutes later.
I asked the police officers I had spoken briefly with earlier in the evening if someone had been shot. Cops don’t like answering press questions. But they nodded. I asked if the person had died. One shrugged, but then gave half a nod.
A small crowd gathered at the tape. I listened as people spoke. There was wonder and disappointment. But no surprise, and no fear.
The story of this moment, sadly, is how regular this seemed for people here.
I had been standing in the road next to a police car no more than an hour earlier, no more than 50 feet from where this person was shot. A police officer later remarked at the brazenness of it. She speculated that it might have been a robbery as she spoke to another officer.
I found Amos.
“This is the culture,” he said, flatly. “There’s nothing shocking about this. But if this happened in ... Sandy Springs? People would be scattering. The cops would cordon off the whole street and close all the clubs.”
Amos and his friends kicked up a cloud of engine smoke from two dozen bikes and took off for Buckhead.
A manager from CRU Lounge, across the street from the shooting scene, asked me if I was with APD. I showed her my press badge. We talked about the reporting project and I told her I was looking at why crime had increased in the city. She asked me for my thoughts on it.
When I said I thought the clubs may be contributing to the violence, she scoffed and got mad. “Don’t say that! Keisha is mean. She’s going to shut all the clubs down, and then we won’t have any fun.”
It’s 3:30 a.m. I’m home. Half the street is still there.
The fellow with the puppies is selling puppy siblings for $1,000 a pop.
I stuck around for a while hoping to talk the cops into briefing me on what happened before the press release. I was very polite. They were very polite. No dice. “A statement will be issued by homicide,” a police sergeant told me. “That’s all we’re going to say.”
A homicide detective — in a fedora, no less — at least confirmed that someone was actually dead, simply by being there.
Dick Tracy, y’all.
Aside from the murder, little changed about the vibe on the street. The sidewalks remained full of people trying to get into or out of a club, or hanging out, ostensibly because the clubs ban weapons. 2:30 a.m. and there are a half a dozen guys on horseback at the corner of Edgewood and Jackson Street, trying to pick up girls.
I’ll have more to say about this moment in a few days. But I’d like to leave you with this: I shouldn’t have been able to guess where a murder might happen.
I went to Edgewood tonight in part because I wanted to tell a tale of renewal, of the death of quarantine and not the death of one more clubber downtown. Murder should not be predictable. It should not be so predictable that a thousand people can be within earshot — fireworks-cover aside — of a shooting and then collectively shrug while paying the cover charge at Esco.
Police staffing tonight was normal. Which is to say, the police presumed no additional threat of gunplay tonight, beyond what we all laughingly accept as normal. Not that it would have mattered, I think; the killer could have thrown the gun from where he or she shot someone and hit a cop.
I was at Edgewood to write about uplift. But I knew in the back of my mind that someone might die tonight. None of the conditions that undergird the death of Secoriea Turner or of the people who died on Edgewood Avenue last Independence Day have fundamentally changed. We have a society that tells very poor people to do anything they can to get ahead, that reward requires risk, and then makes the acquisition of a gun trivial. The relationship between the public and the police remains challenging. The clubs are still open. And people are still, by and large, a little more pissed off than they should be.
"It’s the young people who haven’t got anything to lose.” This. The feeling, consciously or subconsciously, that they don't have much to live for + the easy access to firearms. That is what is driving so much of the rise in violence.
Somewhere, there will be a billboard lawyer wanting to sue any venue and venue property owner where that victim might have possibly been inside for negligence and failure to run a safe business. Because it happened to me.