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Military Presence Escalates Tension Among Public, Georgia State Criminologist Warns

A member of the Georgia National Guard stands outside the State Capitol on Tuesday in Atlanta.
A member of the Georgia National Guard stands outside the State Capitol on Tuesday in Atlanta.
Credit John Bazemore / Associated Press

Ongoing protests over white supremacy and police brutality, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, have strained the general public into a state of normlessness, an expert says.

Georgia State University Criminology Professor Dean Dabney echoed statements from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and critics of the governor’s decision to deploy National Guard troops to Atlanta.

“The police department generally is not happy when something like that happens, especially when they didn’t ask for it to happen,” Dabney told Morning Edition host Lisa Rayam.

“On top of that, you’ve got a more military presence in the streets, which increases the tensions among the public. It’s a balance between patience and re-establishing authority.”

But Dabney also said he is alarmed by the spike, which doesn’t even factor in shooting victims from the 4th of July weekend. The aftermath: five people dead, including an 8-year-old girl, Secoriea Turner. Department officials said there were 31 confirmed shooing victims Friday through Sunday.

“You’ve got a high level of those high-profile, violent crimes, which immediately grabs the public’s attention. That’s happening, I would theorize, because of a lack of proactive policing,” Dabney said.

“At the same time, you’ve got a general demeanor within the public, and within the neighborhoods where there are high levels of crime, that can produce these flash-flood incidents.”

Secoriea Turner was killed near the spot where Rayshard Brooks was shot.
Secoriea Turner was shot near the spot where Rayshard Brooks was killed. (Courtesy of the Atlanta Police Department)

Atlanta police crime data shows gun violence spiked during a 28-day-period last month, compared to that same time frame last year.

Police data shows nearly 100 people were shot across Atlanta between May 31 and June 27, a 104% increase over June 2019.

Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted Sunday night that he would take action against what he called a trend of lawlessness in Atlanta. By Monday morning, Kemp had declared a state of emergency and authorized the activation of up to 1,000 National Guard troops. The order is to remain in effect until at least July 13, and says the state of emergency is justified by the “unlawful assemblage, violence, overt threats of violence, disruption of the peace and tranquility of this state and danger existing to persons and property.”

 

Atlanta police have also released new surveillance footage that shows a suspect leaving the scene near University Avenue and Pryor Road, where Turner was shot and killed Saturday night. The surveillance video shows a black man in a white shirt. Investigators said the man is carrying an AR-15 assault weapon.

The young girl was riding in the backseat of a car driven by her mom. A friend sat in the passenger seat. Police said the three attempted to enter a parking lot in the 1200 block of Pryor Road, across the street from the same Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed by police last month.

After the car attempted to go through illegally placed barricades, police said an armed group surrounded the car. Authorities are still investigating why at least two people shot at the vehicle. Secoriea, who was about to celebrate her 9th birthday, was taken to Atlanta Medical Center and did not survive.

“I think it’s more linked to the protests than the pandemic,” Dabney said.

“Certainly the pandemic is relevant because it’s got people not feeling psychologically balanced. As we’ve opened back up, people have come back out a little bit stir-crazy, and are responding accordingly.”