Atlanta mayor says increase in shootings stems from ‘perfect storm of distress’

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Tuesday the increase in shootings and murders in the city and across the country is the result of a “perfect storm” of frustration, the coronavirus pandemic and issues with police brutality.

“I think it’s just this perfect storm of distress in America,” Bottoms said on “Good Morning America.”

“I think that that people are obviously anxious, and even angry about Covid-19. Loved ones are dying. People are losing their jobs. I think there’s a lot of frustration, a lot of angst.”

Bottoms, a Democrat who herself tested positive for Covid-19, said that the rhetoric from the White House hasn’t helped.

“It doesn’t give people much hope and I think that it’s all converging together and we’re seeing it happen and spill out onto the streets in Atlanta and we’re seeing it across the country and then you add, on top of that, the cases that we’ve all witnessed of police brutality and it has all come together in a violent way,” she said.

Her comments came a day after Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency and activated as many as 1,000 Georgia National Guard troops following what his press release described as “weeks of dramatically increased violent crime and property destruction in the City of Atlanta.”

“Peaceful protests were hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda. Now, innocent Georgians are being targeted, shot, and left for dead,” Kemp said in a statement. “This lawlessness must be stopped and order restored in our capital city.”

The troops will be deployed as needed to protect state buildings, including the State Capitol, the Georgia Department of Public Safety headquarters, the governor’s mansion and the Georgia World Congress Center, CNN affiliate WSB reports.

Bottoms, a top candidate to be presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, said she disagrees with Kemp’s decision and said he activated the National Guard without asking if the city needed help.

Atlanta was the site of protests opposed to police violence against Black people, particularly after the Atlanta Police killing of Rayshard Brooks outside a Wendy’s drive-through.

Across the country, major American cities are seeing an increase in shootings and murders in the wake of these protests and the end of pandemic stay-at-home orders. These cities, including Atlanta, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, are also seeing a significant decline in other violent and property crimes.

There’s a rise in shootings but a drop in other crime

Atlanta Police publishes data on its site weekly of eight serious crimes: murders, rapes, robberies, burglaries, aggravated assaults, larcenies from automobiles, other larcenies and automobile thefts.

As of June 27, the latest date for which Atlanta crime data is available, there were 50 murders in Atlanta compared to 46 at this point in 2019, and 41 murders at this point in 2018.

This year’s murder total so far is slightly below the 55 murders as of the end of June 2016, when cities across the country saw Black Lives Matter protests against police violence spurred by the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

In addition, the 282 shooting incidents so far in 2020 in Atlanta is a 19% increase from that point last year, the data shows.

The increase is even more stark over the past 28 days compared to the same 28-day period in 2019, as murders in Atlanta have jumped from six to 14 and shootings incidents have nearly doubled.

But at the same time, reported robberies, burglaries, larcenies from automobiles, other larcenies, and automobile thefts have declined by at least 14% compared to this same point in 2019 as well as this point in 2018. Aggravated assaults are unchanged from last year’s total as of June 27, while reported rapes are down 59%.

In all, the total number of serious criminal incidents so far this year is far lower than in previous years.

As of June 27 in Atlanta, there have been about 9,500 incidents of those eight most serious offenses — an 18% decrease from the same point in 2019 and a 22% decrease from the same point in 2018.

Similarly, as of the end of June, there were about 12,400 of these eight serious offenses in 2018, 12,200 in 2017, and 13,600 in 2016, according to Atlanta Police data. And all of these totals are well below crime numbers as of the end of June 2009, when there were 18,900 of these incidents.

In all, the data is broadly consistent with the nationwide decline in violent crime over the past several decades since its peak in the early 1990s.

Why are large cities seeing similar trends?

This trend is not specific to Atlanta, as New York City has similarly seen a rise in shootings and murders this year but a decline in most other crimes. New York Police Department officials have blamed the increases on the coronavirus pandemic and protests against police brutality, as well as issues specific to New York like state bail reform and a decline in incarceration at Rikers Island jail.

Criminologists are still trying to understand why so many American cities have seen similar trends. A report commissioned by the Arnold Ventures philanthropy said homicide rates declined in April and May in most large US cities likely because of coronavirus business closures and stay-at-home orders.

“Homicides depend on relatively vibrant activity patterns — lots of people on the street,” Richard Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor and co-author of the report, told the philanthropy’s newsletter. “When the streets are empty, the opportunities for all kinds of street crime go down.”

Thomas Abt, a senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice and the report’s other author, told CNN last week that there appeared to be connection between violence and the “legitimacy” of the state and law enforcement.

“As legitimacy drops, the people in these communities simply don’t use the criminal justice system to mediate conflicts and instead turn to violence,” he told the newsletter.

“We saw a significant increase in homicides after the unrest in Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago and other places. We may be in for the same thing in the wake of the George Floyd protests.”