Fetish of fear in the ‘new ATL’

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“It’s the rea­son our coun­try needs con­stant re­minders that black lives mat­ter, be­cause a hand­ful of in­ci­dents in a mostly white neigh­bor­hood con­sti­tute a more dire emer­gency than the daily cri­sis lived in some parts of the city.”

I’m sure I’ll be killed a few days af­ter this col­umn is pub­lished, shot in the face while walk­ing to my Mid­town apart­ment, and ev­ery­one will sneer, “Told you so!” Not much is more sat­is­fy­ing than when an ex­ag­ger­ated fear is val­i­dated.

A grow­ing ma­jor­ity of Mid­town res­i­dents seem sur­prised to learn that bad things some­times hap­pen in good neigh­bor­hoods. Specif­i­cally, the cho­rus woe­fully sings about the “new bold­ness” ex­erted dur­ing the “crime that has plagued the area since mid­sum­mer.”

This is at least the third pur­ported “crime wave” that has ter­ror­ized Mid­town in the 12 years I’ve been a res­i­dent. Lis­ten­ing to my neigh­bors, one would think the neigh­bor­hood is steadily de­scend­ing into twi­light, in­stead of rapidly evolv­ing into the most pros­per­ous, and en­vi­able, area of At­lanta.

At­lanta Po­lice Depart­ment Zone 5, which in­cludes Mid­town, ranks an av­er­age of fourth out of six po­lice zones in ma­jor crime cat­e­gories in 2015, in­clud­ing be­ing fifth in car thefts and homi­cides, and last in res­i­den­tial bur­glar­ies and rob­beries. Only in car break-ins is Mid­town the most dan­ger­ous part of At­lanta.

I don’t be­lit­tle the trauma of be­ing vi­o­lated by crim­i­nals, as I re­mem­ber how shaken I was af­ter be­ing mugged twice within a six-week pe­riod when I was 15. Crime vic­tims have ev­ery right to be­lieve their sur­round­ings are more dan­ger­ous than ever, but it’s in­sult­ing for city of­fi­cials to in­dulge such para­noia.

At­lanta Mayor Kasim Reed and po­lice Chief Ge­orge Turner vowed last month to ac­ti­vate over­time pa­trols, in­stall more sur­veil­lance cam­eras and hire more of­fi­cers to re­store safety to Mid­town. Res­i­dents of more dan­ger­ous parts of the city might won­der what makes their Mid­town coun­ter­parts more de­serv­ing of po­lice re­spon­sive­ness and re­sources, al­though any­one pay­ing at­ten­tion to Amer­i­can history since 1619 can form an ed­u­cated guess.

It’s the rea­son our coun­try needs con­stant re­minders that black lives mat­ter, be­cause a hand­ful of in­ci­dents in a mostly white neigh­bor­hood con­sti­tute a more dire emer­gency than the daily cri­sis lived in some parts of the city.

It’s easy and re­as­sur­ing for Mid­town res­i­dents to be­lieve ex­panded polic­ing is the so­lu­tion to their woes: jail an­swers ev­ery­thing, at least the ques­tions worth ask­ing. No need to con­sider the dis­pro­por­tion­ate de­vel­op­ment Mid­town has en­joyed for two decades, aes­thet­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally, while poorer neigh­bor­hoods are ne­glected un­til they are razed or their res­i­dents re­placed.

At­lanta has a long rep­u­ta­tion as a black mecca, but there is a new ATL emerg­ing, and it is wholly un­in­ter­ested in the parts of the city that orig­i­nated and ex­ported the cul­tural brand. And be­cause a walk through Pied­mont Park or along the Belt­line would yield few hints of be­ing in the heart of a “chocolate city,” the pop­u­lar nar­ra­tive about crime in Mid­town fos­ters the sus­pi­cion and fear of any young, un­fa­mil­iar black male in the neigh­bor­hood.

My nephew is such a young man, hav­ing moved to Mid­town from the South Side of Chicago. I’ve yet to de­velop the fa­cial mus­cles to tell him, with­out laugh­ing, about how dan­ger­ous our neigh­bor­hood is, but I’ve tried to make sure he un­der­stands, with­out fear, how his new neigh­bors may per­ceive him.

Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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