Tensions are high in East Atlanta in the wake of several robberies and three homicides that have plagued the neighborhood over the past few months.
East Atlanta business and homeowners joined residents of Grant Park, Peoplestown, Kirkwood, and Chosewood inside Zoo Atlanta's ARC building Wednesday night for a "Joint Neighborhood Crime and Safety Meeting." Several city officials squeezed into the packed auditorium with the residents and law enforcement officers.
Onstage were five panelists, meant to rally, reassure and inform the communities about the measures being taken to solve the crime problem.
One of the panelists was Kevin Spigener, the president of the East Atlanta Community Association. In his speech, Spigener gave those assembled a snapshot of a community on edge:
"In speaking with the people over the last three months, I know that there are feelings of anger, there's feelings of fear, there is a sadness and grief at the loss we feel. Our loss of security, our loss of happiness, our loss of hope in the justice system," he said. "There is anger and rage, perhaps now a channeled rage, but still rage that wants justice and even dares to say it yearns for revenge."
Joining Spigener onstage were House District 59 Rep. Margaret Kaiser, Lt. John Quigley of the Atlanta Police Department, Dave Klepp of TeleNavigators Security & Productivity Technologies, and Lauren Rocereta and Chris Newman of the Grant Park Neighborhood Association.
Though the individuals behind the string of crimes in East Atlanta remain unidentified, Dekalb police recently arrested four suspects, including three juveniles, who they believe could be linked to the crime wave. The suspects in a number of the area's crimes have been described as males in their mid to late teens. A comment Spigener made about the teenage perpetrators sparked anger among a few in the already tense crowd.
"These people are not kids, so let's just call them what they are. They're criminals, who rob, and steal, and murder," he said.
His comments moved one woman, who said her son had been killed in East Atlanta, to speak up and discourage the crowd against vigilante justice. John Jackson, another East Atlanta resident, gave his thoughts on Spigener's words and the crime wave after the meeting.
"It just bothered me how one-sided this event was and how hostile that guy sounded talking about our Black youth," he said, also expressing his displeasure at the fact that all of the panel members were white.
"The crime wave is nothing new to people who are poor and Black," Jackson continued, "nobody ever raised hell about the crime in these areas when it was Black folk."
In contrast, District 5 City Councilwoman Natalyn M. Archibong, who represents the East Atlanta neighborhood, said that she was impressed with the evening's turnout because it shows that neighbors are concerned about their community. In response to the crime wave, she is advocating for a continuation of increased police presence, particularly in East Atlanta's commercial areas.
"I don't think that three murders in two and a half months is the norm in East Atlanta," she said.
Archibong also said that she met with Georgia Power representatives about the issue of inadequate street lighting, and that she is trying to use money from the District 5 expense account to help East Atlanta pay for additional surveillance cameras.
Archibong also stressed the importance of remembering that crime is not isolated to East Atlanta. She described an email she received from Midtown Security Patrol detailing several crimes similar to those seen in East Atlanta.
"We all need to be vigilant and concerned, and this is not just an East Atlanta problem," Archibong said. "As a larger community we all need to work together to make sure that if I'm moving crime out of my neighborhood, I'm not pushing it into your neighborhood. That we're doing something systemic and sustained."
Carlos Campos, the spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department, had a similar message.
"We're not looking at this as just an East Atlanta problem or a Zone 6 problem, because these criminals, they don't look at borders. So we're looking at crimes that are occurring not only in other parts of the city but also across our borders, in other counties, and cities even."
Campos said that in addition to paying close attention to crime patterns and trends in other areas, the APD is working to increase their visibility by putting a substantial resources in East Atlanta and stepping up patrols.
Campos also wished to remind the public to be careful.
"A lot of things are occurring when people are leaving clubs and bars and restaurants late at night. If possible try to get a ride, or as much as possible stay in lighted areas and walk in groups," he said. "We're aware these incidents are happening, we're concerned about them, we're every bit as concerned as the residents and the business owners, and we want to put a stop to them."