WASHINGTON – “We’re better than this.”
That was the message that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms delivered on May 29, 2020, as cities across the country grappled with protests and unrest over the killing of George Floyd. As a black woman ruling the most forward-looking city in the South—Atlanta was famously “too busy to hate” during the 1960s—Bottoms could neither forget that Not who she was, nor what her constituents needed.
In remarks that day, he acknowledged the tension in unusually frank terms. “I wear it every day, and I pray for my children every day,” she said of the racism that Floyd’s killing put on such gruesome display. But, he added, “We didn’t do that to our city when Dr. King was assassinated.”
A year later, with the coronavirus pandemic seemingly over and Donald Trump no longer bridging the racial divide in the White House or on Twitter, Bottoms stunned Atlanta and the Democratic establishment by announcing he would not seek a second term. will do “Just because you can do it doesn’t always mean you should,” he said at the time.
His next job will be in Washington, where Bottoms, now 52, was named a senior White House adviser on foreign affairs earlier this year. Once considered a potential running mate for Joe Biden, she is now embroiled in an administration feud with former mayors, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, Ind.), Labor Secretary Marty Walsh (Boston) and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge is involved. (Warrensville Heights, a suburb of Cleveland).
Speaking to Yahoo News earlier this month, Bottoms reflected on how far American cities have come since 2020 — and how far they have to go. “We know recovery takes time,” he said in a plea for patience in a nation reeling from two years of restrictions, lockdowns and shortages. “American cities are really a reflection of where we are as a country.”
Tourists are back, according to a quick survey of crowds in New York City’s Times Square or Washington’s National Mall. Office workers don’t have it. Some restaurants are thriving. Others are not, with 159,000 food establishments closing across the country in 2020 alone. This includes such iconic spots as the Plum Tree Inn, a staple of Los Angeles’ Chinatown district, and the famous City Tavern in Philadelphia, not to mention the casual eateries that rival the corporate chains. were unable to or could have maneuvered towards the first taste of delivery. .
“People are desperate to get out and get back to some sort of normalcy,” Bottoms says. That’s incredibly true, but inflation has driven up the prices of many social experiences, making a 2022 stay potentially as expensive as travel. The innocent pastime of enjoying a baseball game, for example, will cost an average of $204 for a family of four in 2022 — and likely even more in larger markets like Boston or Chicago. Cities had been unaffordable long before the pandemic, but the pandemic has thrown that unaffordability into stark relief with all its economic woes.
Then there’s the fear of crime, which has conflated with the fear of the coronavirus to foster a sense — exaggerated, but rooted in reality — that lawlessness is now rampant. The latest report from the Major Cities Chiefs Association shows that homicides and rapes declined in the first six months of 2022 compared to 2021 in the largest U.S. cities — although the frequency of both was well above 2019 levels. Both robbery and aggravated assault increased sharply in 2022 compared to 2021.
Unlike some other Democratic leaders, the politically astute Bottoms did not join calls to “defend the police,” instead arguing that Atlanta was already doing what criminal justice activists called for. Is. She is careful about how she talks about crime, as does President Biden, who finds himself torn between his longtime support for law enforcement and a Democratic base that wants reform. It is demanded that moderates will resist.
“We know that communities want to have safe interactions with police. And we know that police, as a whole, want to have safe interactions with communities. Everyone wants to go home safely at the end of the day,” former Mayor told Yahoo News. Most officers, he argued, “want to be protectors in communities, not warriors.”
Biden has signed an executive order limiting the additional flow of military equipment to federal law enforcement agencies. But police militarization — started in Los Angeles by controversial chiefs William Parker and Daryl Gates — has always been a local problem, one that Congress must address.
Bottoms notes that the president has called for an assault weapons ban. While such a move would be symbolically significant, military-style rifles account for a tiny fraction of the guns used to commit crimes in the United States.
For the most part, violent crime affects poor people of color, especially young black men. But these are rarely crimes that receive press coverage. The most high-profile murder in Atlanta in recent memory is that of Katie Janis, a white woman who was fatally shot while walking her dog in Piedmont Park. Fearful of crime, the Buckhead District — a bastion of white wealth that stands as a gateway to Atlanta’s coveted northern suburbs — has sought to secede from the city in an effort that echoes midcentury efforts To avoid school integration by making it all white. Suburban school districts.
The fall of 2022 will be a test of how resilient cities are. And that flexibility depends on factors that are partially beyond the control of mayors, governors, and even the president. A new form of coronavirus could disrupt school education. Rising gas prices could frustrate plans to leave the office, putting new pressure on small businesses in the city, leaving roads and public transit systems empty.
But for now, the bottoms are hopeful. “We’ve made it the other way around,” he told Yahoo News. “And we’re still standing.”