ATLANTA — Rising violence is fueling a movement advocating the secession of Atlanta’s wealthiest and whitest neighborhood, Buckhead, in an effort to create a new city with its own police force. The idea, which has gained traction over the past year, worries Atlanta authorities, who fear losing residents and tax revenue.
The Republican-dominated Georgia Legislature, which just opened its 2022 session, will consider a bill this month to hold a referendum on the creation of the town of Buckhead. In Atlanta, political leaders, mostly Democrats, oppose this project.
Bill White, chief executive of the committee advocating for city status for Buckhead, says Atlanta hasn’t done enough to stem, among other things, violence, auto theft or rodeos wild cars which increased in 2020, a period marked by the start of the pandemic and coming after the riots linked to demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“They really don’t care about Buckhead,” White said of city officials. They just want our money. »
Atlanta officials, including Mayor Andre Dickens, say they are taking action to tackle crime in Buckhead and the rest of the city and stress the importance of sticking together.
Violent crimes and misdemeanors have increased in major cities across the country, with several setting new murder records in recent years. Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Portland (Oregon), Louisville (Kentucky) and Albuquerque (New Mexico) had their bloodiest years in 2021. Atlanta, for its part, recorded 158 homicides in 2021 and 157 in 2020, against 99 in 2019, according to his police department.
Atlanta Police Zone 2, which includes Buckhead, was the site of 13 murders between 1is January on December 25, 2021, an increase of 63% over the same period in 2020. On social media, individuals have posted videos taking place in Buckhead where one can see assaults, rodeos, gunshots fire and other potential acts of crime.
In many cities, the upsurge in crimes and misdemeanors — ranging from thefts to homicides — is sparking political debates about how best to tackle crime and what resources are needed to do so. But in Buckhead, where 108,000 of Atlanta’s 510,000 residents live, the demand has shifted from a demand for more police to the possibility of secession.
Jim Durrett, president and CEO of the Buckhead Coalition, a group of anti-secession community and business leaders, says setting up services and taxes as part of a new city would be more difficult than its supporters claim. He adds that the loss of residents and tax revenue would severely damage what would remain of Atlanta.
The Buckhead Coalition and other organizations educate residents about the complications and costs of a split. Mr Durrett says some people who were considering the idea last year are starting to have second thoughts.
“I’m still a little worried today, but less than six months ago,” says Durrett.
Rising violence has been a major political issue in Atlanta for some time. Former mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms did not run again last November due to widespread criticism of her handling of the case. His successor, Mr Dickens, who took office this month, has largely built his campaign on tackling crime.
Local anti-secession officials have recently taken steps to demonstrate their interest in fighting crime in Buckhead. And the city council is creating a new public safety task force that will focus on this neighborhood.
Critics of the secession plan claim that such a plan would divide the two cities along economic and ethnic lines. Buckhead would be about 71% non-Hispanic white to about 11% black, while the rest of Atlanta would be about 27% non-Hispanic white to 61% black.
Mr Dickens, a Democrat elected in a housekeeping ballot, last week held a press conference outside a new police station being built in Buckhead and promised more officers to The area.
“It’s important for me to stop this wave of crime in our city,” he said. We will continue to form a single city with a bright future. »
Mr. White believes that Atlanta officials are now trying to reassure residents because of the secession plan. According to him, an independent municipality of Buckhead would focus resources on increasing the number of officers protecting the locality and providing them with better equipment and more means.
Critics of the secession plan claim that such a plan would divide the two cities along economic and ethnic lines. Buckhead is estimated to be about 71% non-Hispanic white to about 11% black, while the rest of Atlanta is estimated to be about 27% non-Hispanic white to 61% black, according to data collected by the Atlanta Regional Commission. , a land use planning agency. Buckhead City’s median household income is reportedly around $110,000, compared to $58,000 for the rest of Atlanta.
Mr. White refuses to allow the project of creating the town of Buckhead to be approached in racial or economic terms.
“We just want to take back control of crime fighting in our community,” he said. It’s unfair to say it’s racist. »
Attached to Atlanta in 1952, Buckhead has long been known for its restaurants, bars and clubs as well as being home to large properties. The residence of the governor of Georgia is located there in particular.
The main promoters of Buckhead’s proposed secession referendum are Georgia Senator Brandon Beach and Representative Todd Jones, two Republicans elected from neighborhoods north of Atlanta. Neither responded to requests for comment. Mr Beach had previously said in a statement that the rise in crime was causing residents of Buckhead to feel insecure and that their concerns deserved to be addressed by the authorities.
Representatives and senators from Georgia who represent Buckhead, all Democrats, oppose the idea. If the bill is adopted, a referendum organized among all the inhabitants of Buckhead could take place as early as next November. And if the latter succeeds, a new legislative text will be necessary to implement the secession.
Republican Governor Brian Kemp, seeking re-election this year, did not take a position on the proposal. Former federal senator David Perdue, a Republican competitor to Mr. Kemp, has said he supports her, while the main Democratic contender for governor, Stacey Abrams, opposes it.
In Buckhead, signs in favor and against the project dot the lawns. Some, bearing the inscription Buckhead City have been vandalized: the name of the city has been transformed into an expletive.
Sheldon Dennie, 23, who works in online marketing, says the movement to create a new city is divisive.
“I don’t think Buckhead needs to be separated from Atlanta,” she continued. In this case, the crime will still be there. »
Evita Alexander-Esteves, a 37-year-old business consultant, and his wife, Jade, 34, who works in human resources, are both supportive of the Buckhead City project. Their car was recently stolen from the garage of their condominium where other vehicles were forced into, they say. Crime “makes me want to move to the outskirts”, concludes Evita Alexander-Esteves.
(Translated from the original English version by Grégoire Arnould)