One Year In
This is the one-year anniversary of The Atlanta Objective. It's been weird. Here's to Year Two.
What a year.
On the one hand, I — we — have reasons to celebrate. My work in the Atlanta Objective — and work elsewhere that your support of this newsletter has facilitated — has won the inaugural John Lewis award from Georgia Writers, a Henry Frank Guggenheim justice reporting fellowship and, last week, the “Good Trouble” honor from the Center for Civic Innovation, their highest award for civic action. Here’s what I said Thursday night, as I received the award at the fabulous Fox Theater downtown:
“Two years ago, I and many of the people in this room were in the street after the full impact of the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others became clear. We marched to speak a plain truth: that racism is real, that it is deadly, that it creates inequality, that that inequality is deadly, and that Americans have a moral obligation to end it.
It's been a long two years. Ask yourself what has happened over the last two years. Plainly, not enough. One of those things is that Georgia is about to make it a crime for a public school teacher to tell the plain truth about American racism to a child.
Facing that, it is more important than ever to support the telling of uncomfortable truths to people in power. That's my work.”
I need your support today, more than ever, because of what’s happening on the other hand.
Violent crime has become more serious over the last three months than it had been even in the previous year. Atlanta had 42 homicides from January through March 26. That’s a 56 percent increase over the 27 murders in 2021 over the same period, which itself had elevated numbers. (For context: Atlanta had 19 murders in the first three months of 2020, before the pandemic spike.) We are double the baseline, and if we stay at half-again the year-over-year rates through the summer, Atlanta will have its first 200-murder year in 30 years.
At first, the killings in Atlanta looked … well, crazy. I no longer think that’s what’s happening. The aggravated assault rate is actually down three percent over this period. Robberies have fallen 24 percent. People do not magically become 50 percent better at killing someone they’re shooting at. The statistical variance between shootings and murders suggests intent — targeted killings, as police declared the murder of Desmond Key, a 35-year-old real estate investor and music executive who was found dead of a gunshot wound on Juniper Street in Midtown early Monday morning.
Fani Willis, Fulton County’s new district attorney, told reporters last week to expect a major racketeering case to be filed at the end of April. Willis’ previous racketeering cases have focused on prosecuting gangs using the state’s rather unique anti-gang statute. I expect that to be the case this time.
I don’t know which gang, if any, will be prosecuted. But YSL remains top-of-mind, given its presence in the liner notes of previous racketeering cases, and the fact that about half of the 17 murders in the last 28 days have been in Zone 3, which is YSL territory. YSL — Young Slime Life — is also the name of the record label started by Atlanta rapper, number-one album selling, Grammy winner Young Thug.
Bear in mind, there are many street gangs in Atlanta that may have drawn enough attention and left enough evidence behind to warrant indictments: Henxhmen, Homixide, PFK, 4PF, others. But the trail of bodies leads me to suspect YSL is coming first.
I don’t think the spike in homicides is random. I think it’s an attempt to clean up potential witness lists by one or the other gangs who are staring a racketeering case in the face, and possibly the reprisals for those targeted killings.
This is an especially acute problem given what’s happening in prisons.
I’ve written about the skyrocketing murder rate in Georgia’s prisons before. I would have been writing more, except that I can’t get verifiable data about what’s happening in prisons because the Georgia Department of Corrections is a black hole that has decided to stonewall inquiry.
Well, it turns out that they’re stonewalling the federal government too. In a damning brief filed last week by the U.S. Department of Justice, federal investigators have said that they can’t get the department to even confirm the number of murders that have happened in Georgia prisons, not without agreeing to a non-disclosure agreement, like they’re a venture capital firm discussing intellectual property.
Never mind how a warden turned a legislative delegation away from an inspection last year. The problems in Georgia’s prisons may be so instantaneously toxic to the administration that they’re willing to fight the federal government just to avoid having to admit its happening. It is a nuclear response to information requests.
Normally, one would expect the Board of Corrections members to step in here with a call for transparency. But given who is serving on that board — Bill White, really? — I have no expectation that they will do anything other than abet the stonewalling.
What we do know from the testimony of former prison guards is that the staffing shortages have become so severe that they have effectively turned over running prisons to prison gangs. The connection between gang leaders in prison and violence by street gangs outside of prison should be clear enough: a smuggled cell phone allows an OG gang leader to call shots — literally — from inside a cell, and the normal constraints against such things have evaporated in government dysfunction.
I need your help to keep writing about this.
If you’re a paying subscriber, thank you. You are supporting something groups like the Center of Civic Innovation and other crime writers around the country consider vital enough to acknowledge. If you are not, please consider a subscription as a paid contributor to the cause.