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Buckhead to remain a part of Atlanta after top Georgia lawmakers strike down cityhood request

5 mins read

White residents have long protested their integration with the Black Mecca. Now they are more vocal than ever, but top Republicans think they can wait.

On February 10, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R) and House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) led the Georgia General Assembly in denying a heavily Republican-backed request for the wealthy, white-majority Buckhead region of Atlanta to become sovereign—at least for this year. The move by Assembly Republicans means the question of Buckhead cityhood will not be on the ballot this coming November. 

Lt. Gov. Duncan joined local Democrats in explicitly opposing the push, saying Atlanta’s new mayor, Andre Dickens, should be afforded more time to acclimate. Namely, to incorporate his new Law Enforcement Strategic Support Act (LESS Crime Act), a $250 million 2021 proposal which affords Georgia tax credits to those who make police donations. As well, Lt. Gov. Duncan made a case to allot more time for Mayor Dickens to appropriately address the city’s increasing crime issue. 

“We’re in a pause mode. I and others have put out some important questions that have not yet been answered [about the Buckhead annex],” Lt. Gov. Duncan expressed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “What is the strategy to stem crime? What is the strategy to deal with Atlanta public schools in the city’s footprint? What are the finance ideas around the bond package?” the lieutenant governor continued. “Those questions haven’t been answered.”

For the last year-and-a-half, the Buckhead cityhood movement intensified its attempts to distinguish itself from Atlanta. For decades, proponents of the move are rich, majorly white residents. Now led by Buckhead City Committee chairman and CEO Bill White, he claims  Atlanta’s recent “COVID crime wave” threatens the safety and sanctity in their neighborhood more than ever. With cityhood granted, they hope to establish a strong law enforcement presence. Ergo, eradicating illegal activity.

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Mayor Andre Dickens during his mayoral campaign on November 16, 2021. Photo credit: Phil Mistry on Flickr

Currently a commercial epicenter, Buckhead is Atlanta’s third largest business district. The posh northern neighborhood  has a 77.5 percent white population, with 11 percent who are Black, 7 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian, and 3 percent other; thus, juxtaposing the predominantly Black, working-class metropolis. Mid-aged Millennials and Zoomers are the largest and fastest growing age sector in the area. Overall, Buckhead residents’ outearn those in Atlanta no matter the age group. 

Yet, opponents worry the segregation could result in crucial losses of tax revenue for “The A,” while increasing racial hostilities among constituents. Mayor Dickens is no different. Since his start this year, the new mayor has focused on strengthening state-city relations. He revels at the fact that the two are on the same page with keeping Atlanta one city, at least for now. 

In a press statement, Dickens asserts, “Since taking office I have said, repeatedly, that we will remain one city with one bright future. I am thankful for the support of Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, Speaker David Ralston, members of the Atlanta delegation and all the other state leaders who have sat down with me. They have given me and my administration the runway we need to take off, and we will continue in our work to move Atlanta forward.”

Yet, Speaker Ralston did add a caveat. If Atlanta’s crime issues do not decrease, the issue may be revisited. “The problem of how we got here is not solved—that being the crime problem—and I’m going to be watching to see what actions are taken by the leadership of the city of Atlanta.”

Welcome to Atlanta

The issue of cityhood is not new to the region. In May 2018, Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed a controversial legislation to declare Eagles Landing a separate municipality from Stockbridge, as its “more affluent” counterpart. Opponents including Stockbridge’s first Black mayor, Anthony S. Ford, disapproved of the move, citing a slew of potential locales wanting to follow suit.

According to the U.S. Census, Stockbridge was 62 percent Black from 2015 to 2019, with a median income of $61,291. At the moment, there is no uniform racial data for Eagles Landing. However, the available data shows a white collar-working population with an average wealth of $88,248 annually. The case of Stockbridge bears some similarities to Atlanta.

Georgia’s capital city was first founded in December 1837. Initially, composed mostly of Jewish and Greek immigrants, it switched to native-born whites by the 1880s with an almost even Black population.  However, the 1906 race riots decreased Blacks in the metro area. Nonetheless, at the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, it shifted to a Black majority with political power and a middle-class presence. After Harlem’s decline, it is aptly coined the second “Black Mecca.” However, a Latino population, of which are largely Mexican, has shown significant growth since 2000.

The block is hot

One point in time, Atlanta was the headquarters of Black respectability and middle-class aspirations. Since, it gained a reputation for an underground drug culture often retold in Trap music. While it is still considered an urban oasis for opportunity in the south, Atlanta also currently carries a reputation of a wax-and-wane in illegal activity. Although some crime reportedly decreased over a ten week period in the last quarter of 2021, Hotlanta has maintained elevated levels of crime over the past two years; beating pre-pandemic numbers. Despite ebbs and flows at the beginning of 2022, the city has seen a noticeable jump in crimes against a person and certain property earlier this month that is comparable to that of the 2021 spike

The perceived causes of the uptick in violence are the usual suspects–poverty and inequality. A reality many Black Atliens experience. “What we are talking about are . . . poor people who can’t pay $200 to get out of jail and then lose their job because they can’t pay their car note, and then they get into trouble because they can’t pay their child support,” explained Atlanta’s former mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms in a press conference. 

According to Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative (AWBI), the city is number one in the country for income inequality; with only 4 percent of those born in poverty actually climbing out of it. They claim nearly 70 percent of Black and 66 percent of Latino families being cash poor, as opposed to 22 percent of white families. Today, the median household income for Blacks is just one-third that of whites, with Latinos at about half of the latter. 

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“I still believe that the systemic issues that are leading to people making poor decisions [have] everything to do with us not having the ability to offer people resources. . . . It’s about people having a physical place they can walk into to say, I need help. I need a job. I need GED training. I need daycare for my child because I don’t work 9 to 5—I work 11 to 7,” Bottoms told.

Others like Georgia State criminology professor Volkan Topalli say only a small percentage of folks, young possibly struggling with criminal records and mental illness, are committing said crimes and are responsible for a majority of arrests. Hence, generalized solutions would not be effective. 

“About 0.3 percent of the population is responsible for something like 75 to 80 percent of all the arrests. So, what that means is that the big blanket solutions are not really the way to go. You really want to focus on particular individuals in particular kinds of places,” he made clear to Atlanta Magazine

The ethnographic crime and psychology of criminal activity researcher continues, “And so, [some criminals] want to… spend money as quickly as they can…[w]ell, they don’t have a job. They can’t borrow it. What do they do? They engage in predatory crime.”

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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