Violence Recedes in Atlanta
I've been waiting to make sure I'm not imagining it. The numbers show a meaningful decline in violent crime.
Something dramatic has happened in Atlanta with violent crime over the last few months, something I’ve been tracking for two years, starting April 2021. I’ve been watching it quietly because I didn’t want to make some pronouncement that the historically-significant increase in violence in the city had disappeared without a long-enough run to see a clear trend.
But the Atlanta Police Department’s Week 13 crime report is out, and it certainly looks like Atlanta’s homicide rate is falling back to the 2019 baseline.
Atlanta recorded 22 homicides through the first three months of 2023. That compares to 43 homicides over the same period of 2022, a 49 percent decrease. In 2019, the last “normal” year, Atlanta recorded 25 homicides through the end of March.
Homicide statistics are … touchy. A bad week can make hash of a trend. But the murder rate generally does not fall this quickly. Nor does it often rise as quickly as it did starting in May of 2020.
I didn’t believe it. APD occasionally adds or subtracts cases from previous weeks, and I considered the possibility that they were playing games for appearance sake. But I double checked against the daily news reporting and with the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office, just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. The city’s reported rate matches up with news stories from the AJC and TV.
Some of the murders are, of course, lurid and heartbreaking. Kids in an argument shot 13-year-old Deshon DuBose dead at a skating rink in South Atlanta in January. Famed Atlanta club owner Michael Gidewon lost his life in February to an angry drunkard bounced out of his bar. Police found Owen Jackson, a 31-year-old mechanic and father to a 3-month-old girl, shot dead near a park in a car he was trying to sell to pay his bills.
But we have had half as many of these stories so far this year.
Two kinds of crime I’ve come to expect are conspicuous in their absence. Though the Gidewon murder looked like a continuation of the trend of club-associated murders, it appears to be the only one this year. And none of the 22 homicides this year are drive-by shootings on the interstates.
The aggravated assault rate has also fallen, by a comparatively weaker 25 percent. That mirrors how aggravated assaults rose with the start of the increase in 2020; the murder rate rose about twice as fast as the number of shootings. In previous years, for every 20 aggravated assaults, one person would die. In the second half of 2020 as the murder rate began to climb, that ratio dropped to 13 aggravated assaults to one murder.
Through March of 2023, the ratio has risen to 27.7 to one.
Proportionately, people are getting into fewer serious fights, and those fights have become substantially less lethal. The supposition I made then was that an increase in the lethality of shootings suggested targeted killings as opposed to spontaneous acts of violence.
Consider that virtually all of the decrease in the murder rate is in Zone 1 — that’s Collier Heights, Hunter Hills, Vine City and other parts of westside Atlanta — and East Atlanta’s Zone 6. Last year through March, these two zones recorded 20 homicides between them. So far this year, they’ve had four.
Both of those areas had — have — serious gang issues that were driving violence. Some of that violence appears to have abated. We can look at several factors. Alarm bells have been ringing at the school house for a year as children returned to the classroom increasingly indoctrinated by gangs after 18 months of “distance learning.” School violence increased dramatically. It is possible that administrators and school resource officers may have figured out how to intervene, particularly after a couple of high-profile youth murders like the Atlantic Station shooting drew attention.
The economy, broadly, has been working in the right direction to reduce violence. Atlanta’s unemployment rate is around three percent and has been for about a year. That may have reduced distress at the edges, which can drive domestic violence.
Grady Hospital began a violence intervention program on January 1st, which may be catching some of the most likely cases for immediate, retributive violence.
All of this said: I cannot help but note that the inflection point on that chart appears to be right at the arrest of Young Thug and the uncorking of the YSL gang and racketeering indictment. I have wondered to what degree the case had a shock effect on the street, where gang members began to re-evaluate the risk-reward on violence after seeing Jeffery Williams at a defendant’s table. It seems … implausible. But the chart is what it is.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be trying to answer whether the YSL gang indictment has had the effect on street gangs and violence that this chart suggests may be driving the homicide rate down.
One last thing. Two people have been murdered in Buckhead so far this year. Last year at this time, Buckhead recorded one murder. Thus, plainly, the murder rate in Buckhead has doubled and everyone should sell their homes and move to Lake Burton. Well … maybe not everyone.
Good morning. A fine essay as always, thank you. Of the off chance that you have not read Bill Keller's email interview with Jill Leovy I am attaching the link. Your observation about the YSL arrest feels spot on. Leovy's prose is terrific Poli-Sci language that feels real.
The simple fact that dozens of gang members -who were apparently quite busy murderingtheir rivals - are now languishing in jail should be a contributing factor, no? I was actually dismayed last year when homicides appeared not to drop, despite the number of gang leaders freshly rounded up. Or were gang killings not perpetrated by a concentrated few?