How will anti-racist movement remember Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms?

On May 7, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the termination of her mayoral reelection campaign.

Bottoms did not announce any official reasons, and as an incumbent with a large fundraising apparatus, she had a good chances of winning. This left many people asking why. The reasons behind her decision could come to light later, but it is also important now to clarify the legacy she will leave behind for the working class and poor in Atlanta.

Keisha Lance Bottoms’ tenure as mayor can be defined by her allegiance to the police and her contempt for the 2020 mass movement against racism.

Allegiance to police and repression of the anti-racist movement 

Bottoms has been praised and held up by the mainstream media as a defender of the anti-racist movement and a progressive Democrat. In reality, she has overseen a $200 million police budget — a budget larger than any other city department. She denounced the protests, increased police spending, hired additional police, and came down hard on protesters.

Bottoms increased the police budget each year she has been in office. Even in June 2020, while protests raged against racist police terror, Bottoms proposed a $13 million police budget increase. At the same time, she proposed $40 million in budget cuts to departments, none of which will affect the police.

Bottoms cut millions in social spending during a pandemic placing many more people in positions of desperation. In contrast to the police budget increase, she proposed only a $1 increase to the Atlanta public defender’s office budget despite concerns over the increased need for public defense in relation to COVID-19 and the connected economic crisis.

Due to these crises, Chief Public Defender Kenneth Days cited concerns regarding people arrested for suspended licenses and expired registrations. These types of minor violations and resulting arrests are detrimental to the working class and lead to over-policing poor communities.

Bottoms denounced the 2020 summer protests and implemented a strict curfew that led to violence and arrests against protesters. In just two weeks in June 2020, almost 600 protesters were arrested by police under her leadership.

Bottoms criticized then-President Trump for threatening to use the military against protesters. She then requested that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issue a state of emergency during the summer protests. For weeks, National Guard troops patrolled downtown Atlanta in military vehicles. 

During the protest movement, she came to the defense of the police saying, “I know that there are men and women who put on a uniform every day who love and care about our community and they do it for the right reasons.” 

Over the 4th of July weekend in 2020, Secoriea Turner, an eight-year-old girl, was killed in South Atlanta nearby one of the locations of sustained protests. Although the protests were in no way related to Turner’s death, the next day at a press conference, Bottoms shockingly blamed the protests for the death of Turner. 

More recently, the mayor faced criticism from both right-wing and progressive liberals regarding the current “spike in violence” and crime in the city. Crime impacts working-class people and has its roots in the economic conditions and social relations produced by the capitalist system itself. The newest cycle of economic recession — triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic — heightened economic inequality and plunged many more into poverty. One of the related effects of this phenomenon is an increase in crime.  

Combat crime by investing in community or in cops?

Bottoms has paid lip service to the need to invest in the community to combat crime. But her administration has not approached crime as a systemic issue requiring mass investment in social welfare services and community programs for jobs, housing and youth. Instead, she has taken a “tough on crime” approach, favoring more policing and funneling working-class people into the gigantic mass-incarceration machine.

Bottoms’ program to deal with crime, “ONE Atlanta,” includes increased police spending and the hiring of 250 new police officers. She also committed $3 million to expand Atlanta’s already disturbingly large network of surveillance cameras primarily used to slap people with traffic tickets and outrageous fines while doing little to stop crime. For every thousand people in Atlanta, there are about 16 CCTV cameras — the highest density in the country.

The one thing that Bottoms did do correctly was fire officer Garrett Rolfe on June 14, 2020, for the murder of Rayshard Brooks. Given her track record, this move would seem out of character, but the decision was only made possible by the pressure of the mass rebellion in the streets of Atlanta and nationwide.

At her recent press conference, Bottoms made a revealing admission about firing Rolfe to prevent the intensification of the mass rebellion. She said: “Given the volatile state of our city and nation last summer, the decision to terminate this officer, after he fatally shot Mr. Brooks in the back, was the right thing to do. Had immediate action not been taken, I firmly believe that the public safety crisis that we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse.” More about the reinstatement of Rolfe can be read here.

In Atlanta and around the South, the Black community, all people of color, the working class and poor need political leadership that will stand up for their fundamental rights and interests, in all instances. It is the tested fighters defending the rights of the dispossessed at every turn, emerging out of the people’s movements, that are providing real leadership. The legacies of capitalist politicians like Keisha Lance Bottoms continue to reek of hypocrisy and blatant service to the rich and their defenders in blue.

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