The shooting and protests test the image of Atlanta's black prosperity



Police cars lit up the streets of Atlanta as protesters smashed windows and spray-painted graffiti outside CNN headquarters. Even during national outrage over police destruction and racial injustice, Cassidy Evans struggled to understand why her hometown was confused with the legacy of peaceful resistance.


A white Atlanta police officer was shot in the back after her uncle, Rashard Brooks, fought a drunken driving arrest and tried to escape. Another black man, Brooke, who was killed by George Floyd last week in Minneapolis, was killed in police riot protests on May 25.

"We were standing by the Atlanta Police Department when they were tearing down our city and it didn't say," Evans said of the violent protesters. Speaking through tears at a news conference this week, "It will make you eat your words."

Brooke's murder and Floyd's death under the knee of a white Minneapolis officer following aggressive demonstrations have drawn the attention of Atlanta's racial harmony and the split in the prestige of black well-being. Brooks' death was not devastating, but the chaos on the streets resurfaced.

Atlanta has been "too busy to hate" itself since 1973, a continuous legacy of black mayors in Atlanta. The African American Metro Bureau has more than 176,000 businesses, according to the Census Bureau, the area in any US metropolitan area. After hiring the first black officers in 1949, the Atlanta Police Department is now 70% black, more than 52% of the city's population.

But activists and academics say that the inter-socioeconomic divide in the black community has not taken place as the decade's progress. Three out of four Atlanta people living in poverty are black. So all nine killed by police since 1997.

“A lot of African Americans are doing well, but not a large number,” said Gerald Griggs, an Atlanta activist, attorney and NAACP Chapter Vice President of the city. "Why are you looking at this unrest, because they've been ignored for 40 years."

Atlanta faced a decisive moment in 1968, when a local son, Martin Luther King Jr., was killed in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots broke out in America and thousands of National Guard personnel gathered to restore order in the cities. Atlanta avoided violence, and on the day of King's funeral, the crowd quietly stood on the streets, watching the mule-propelled carriage pull its coffin - a response that helped build the city's legacy of non-violent resistance.

Five years later, Maynard Jackson was elected as Atlanta's first black mayor and was credited with certified operating procedures that gave black-owned companies a greater share of city contracts. Jackson has promised to prosecute police officers for vandalism.

Atlanta maintains its economy - and its national profile - often continues to have racial tensions with some direct benefit to poor blacks, said Georgia State University historian and author of the book on race in Atlanta, Maurice Hobson, "The Legend's" Black Mecca

Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, which opened in 1965 and became home to baseball's Atlanta Braves, occupied the Black neighborhood. Decades later, the facility was demolished to build the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Summer Games, a real-estate crowdsourced by white-owned businesses and crime in Atlanta before it went public.

Hobson said King's legacy was often developed to foster collaboration between the city's black leaders and white business organizations.

"Because it's the king's hometown and the civil rights people live here, they've whitewashed the black experience and made it about the middle class," Hobson said.

He notes that violent protests have shaken Atlanta at least six times since the mid-1960s. In 1992, after a jury acquitted three Los Angeles police officers of beating Rodney King, protesters smashed store windows, stones and bottles.

In 2006, angry protesters confronted police when plaintiffs were serving a warrant when they served a warrant at 92-year-old Catherine Johnson's Atlanta home and shot her when she pointed a gun at them. All three officers received federal prison sentences.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said his office has investigated officers in nine murders since taking office in 1997. All of the victims were black.

In the days after Brooks was killed, Howard announced the murder charge against the firing officer, and Police Chief Erica Shields resigned. While Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has ordered new policies to limit lethal force to authorities, city council members have proposed more police oversight.

“Keisha Lance Bottoms and Paul Howard want to be held accountable by acting very quickly and do not hide behind a lengthy investigation period,” said Andrea Gillespie, Emery University political science professor.

Bottoms, elected in 2017, appeared to be an effective running mate for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Howard faces the primary runoff election from Aug. 11.

Atlanta's recent confusion over racial injustice has not encouraged black businesses.

After Channel Hawk saw police cars burning in the news on May 29, she quickly learned that the next morning someone had thrown her cargo out of the boutique window.

By the time Hawk arrived at the store for six years, most of his designer clothes, shoes and handbags had been stolen. So there's a cash register with $ 100 inside.

"I understand they're crazy and they're frustrated," said Heck, who estimates that he lost just $ 100,000 in cargo. "But they know it's a black-owned business, and it's a black-owned business. It made me crazy."

Among more than a dozen owners, she is seeking help from the Atlanta Black-Owned Business Relief, which began after a group protest. The group has raised more than $ 200,000 to help with the loss and is aiming for, say, $ 500,000, said co-founder Khadija Renner.

“I will not suppress what is stolen,” Rainer said. "People thought, I was going to do what I wanted to do. They were killing us anyway."

Meanwhile, Atlanta is preparing for Brooks' funeral on Tuesday. Actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry, the embodiment of black well-being in Atlanta, is helping pay the bills.

The service will take place at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the King preached and mourned his death more than five decades ago.

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