Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in a July 23 press conference paid tribute to the late Civil Rights leaders C.T. Vivian and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, as well as offered updates on COVID-19, spikes in crime, federal troops being sent to cities, and more.
Civil Rights leaders
Lewis and Vivian both died July 17, drawing tributes from many residents and leaders.
Bottoms said she attended the funeral service for Vivian at Providence Missionary Baptist Church on July 23. “It was incredibly moving, and hit home for me what an enormous loss we are experiencing as a community with the passing of C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis,” she said.
“Those who have been part of the community for so long know they were more than icons, but part of who we are as a community,” Bottoms said. “It’s truly a loss for Atlanta and the entire nation.”
Before continuing her briefing, Bottoms quoted Vivian: “People do not choose rebellion, it is always forced upon them. Revolution is always an act of self-defense.”
“I think that it’s appropriate for where we are today,” Bottoms said of the quote.
Pandemic and mask-wearing lawsuit
Bottoms said COVID-19 cases continue to surge and encouraged residents to visit ATLSTRONG.org to get testing site information and find relief efforts. She said funds had been set aside for emergency rental assistance for those facing evictions and to support small businesses affected by the pandemic.
Bottoms reiterated the comments she made on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” July 22 about her conversation with Gov. Brian Kemp on avoiding a court showdown over the city’s mask mandate and reopening guidelines for businesses.
While the press conference was happening, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick ordered both sides to go to mediation before a scheduled July 28 hearing.
Bottoms described her conversation with Kemp as “very good” and said it was “abundantly clear” that they both wanted what was best for the state and agreed that “masks save lives.”
“It is not my desire to have a public fight,” Bottoms said. “I’d rather spend my energy leading the city through COVID-19 and other challenges facing the city. I trust the governor wants to do the same with the state.”
Bottoms said she still believes Atlanta is on solid legal ground when it comes to masks, and noted that the Georgia Municipal Association filed an amicus brief with the court in support of the city.
The mayor said public safety remains one of her top concerns and acknowledged the spike in violent crime – especially gun crime – in recent weeks. She said while much of the activity was gang- and drug-related, innocent bystanders were being put in harm’s way and she was working with the Atlanta Police Department (APD) to address the challenges.
One of the other challenges is the recent controversy over young people selling water at street corners and interstate off-ramps. There have been numerous incidents of the so-called “water boys” becoming violent toward motorists who don’t want to buy water. Bottoms said APD had reached out to the youths to educate them and offer information on other job opportunities. She said an advisory council on youth entrepreneurship would also be making recommendations soon.
Jim Durrett, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, said July 22 that his group has been working with city officials on the water-seller issue and that Bottoms has a plan that will be announced soon. He said the plan is a “soup to nuts” approach and implied it will mix a crackdown on criminal behavior with opportunities for entrepreneurship.
Federal troops policing
The mayor was one of 15 from cities around the country who signed a letter this week demanding that federal troops be withdrawn from Portland, Oregon, and not be sent to other cities. In a controversial move, President Donald Trump has already ordered troops to Chicago as well.
“I don’t know if it will happen in Atlanta or not,” Bottoms said. “If this is an attempt to assist cities, there needs to be coordination with local law enforcement on how it can be maximized. But what’s happened in Portland is one of the most un-American things I’ve ever seen. People are being swept off the streets in unmarked cars without any coordination with local law enforcement.”
Bottoms said the lack of coordination with local police could create a scenario where law enforcement personnel don’t recognize each other and put officers and the public in harm’s way.