Georgia Today: Atlanta's Violent Holiday Weekend — And What It Means
The July 4 holiday weekend in Atlanta was shocking for its violence. A dozen shootings crossed the city. At least 31 people were injured and five were killed, including an 8-year-old girl named Secoriea Turner.
Host Steve Fennessy talks with CNN reporter Nick Valencia about the string of violence that prompted Gov. Kemp to call in the National Guard. The two also consider what the future looks like for police reforms in the city.
Nick Valencia: As one officer put it towards me, they feel as though Secoriea Turner's death is collateral damage for the mayor's politics.
Steve Fennessy: I'm Steve Fennessy. This is Georgia Today, a production of Georgia Public Broadcasting. It's Friday, July 10th. The July 4th holiday weekend in Atlanta was shocking for its violence. A dozen shootings across the city. At least 31 injured and five dead, including an 8-year-old girl named Secoriea Turner.
CNN reporter Nick Valencia is based in Atlanta and he's been covering the story. Nick walked us through the violence and what all this might mean for police reform in the city of Atlanta.
A few weeks ago, we had on our show Thomas Wheatley from Atlanta Magazine, who was talking about the the events that immediately followed the Rayshard Brooks shooting and what had happened around the Wendy's where the shooting took place.
Valencia: The second day I was there, the day after the Wendys burned down, it was an almost an activist controlled space.
Fennessy: That seemed to be continuing through last week, up until July 4th weekend, no?
Valencia: That's right. It seemed, at least for, for the colleagues that, that went there — the teams that we had at CNN cover it — it was very uncomfortable. And these are, you know, statements coming from veteran journalists who have covered uprisings across the country before. It's not coming from people who haven't experienced things like this before. There was a sense of not only being uncomfortable, but also unsafe.
Valencia: Well, there was no active police presence. There seemed to be a sort of hands off approach to having police there, visible. And if they were visible, it was very hands off.
Newscaster: The Fourth of July weekend turned violent across the city of Atlanta, 28 people shot in less than 24 hours. It is being called an historic night of violence. Four people killed, including an innocent 8-year-old girl by the name of Secoriea Turner, her mother...
Fennessy: So it's July 3rd. It's Friday. The weekend comes and then July 4th happens. And over the span of just a few hours on the evening of July 4th, it feels like all hell breaks loose.
Valencia: I mean, just in the span of three hours, starting around 9:50 there on 1238 Pryor road. You have a call into 911 of a fatal shooting. Police were dispatched to the area very near the Wendy's on University Ave and I-75 -85 for calls of a shooting victim that was an 8-year-old female who we now know to be Secoriea Turner.
Secoriea was in the car with her mother, as well as another unidentified adult male who had gotten off at that — at that road and was trying to enter the University Ave exit near the Wendy's and was trying to enter a parking lot that had an illegal barricade. As I'm told by police sources, there was some jawin back and forth between the driver of the car and the individuals at the barricade. And it turned violent.
According to the mayor, there were at least, not one, but two suspected shooters, one of whom has been listed, I believe, as a person of interest.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: You shot and killed a baby. And it wasn't one shooter, there were at least two shooters. An 8-year-old baby.
Valencia: What we saw transpire afterwards was just raw emotion from, from the community. To see a baby — you know, I'm a father — it hits differently for those who saw that happen.
Lance Bottoms: And I wish that I could stand here as mayor and tell you what the answers are and what the solutions are. But it's simple. Just... we got to stop this.
Valencia: Secoriea's parents were at the press conference with the mayor, and we heard her father say, you don't ever think — you hear these stories all the time, you see the headlines of children that are that are shot and killed and you never think about it until, you know, it's your own child.
Father: They say, "Black Lives Matter." You killed your own. You killed your own. Because a barrier. They killed my baby because she crossed the barrier and made a U turn. You killed a child. She ain't do nothing to nobody.
Valencia: Her mother said, how is this for our cause? How is this for our movement, if you turn the gun on on us, who — we weren't doing anything wrong.
Mother: Help me. Help my baby. She was only eight years old. Right now, just wait. See, 30 minutes out to (?) — she would've been on Tik Tok dancing and on her phone, just got finished eating. We understand the frustration of Rayshard Brooks. We understand. We got nothing to do with that. We innocent. We didn't mean no harm. My baby didn't mean no harm.
Valencia: You know, why did that happen? And I think, you know, digging into the why — of why someone feels that they can just pull the trigger and feel like there's no consequences. And what, what dynamic's went into creating an environment like that where parents won't be able to celebrate her ninth birthday?
Fennessy: You talked a minute ago about the discomfort some of your colleagues felt around Wendys because it wasn't just activists and protesters. It was people actively sort of openly brandishing weapons, right?
Valencia: That's right. And we've seen these, as they're called, autonomous zones pop up and in cities like Washington, D.C. and Seattle. And it's been equated to what was going on here in that area by the Wendys that had been — as you, as you say it — you know, by and large, an activist controlled zone. And this group of individuals had blocked an entrance where the driver of that car that Secoriea Turner was in, was, was trying to turn around. At some point, someone in the group opened fire on the vehicle.
Secoriea was hit, multiple victims that the driver as well as the mother, nonlife threatening injuries for them. It was, we should mention, because activists and demonstrators are taking exception, saying that they are, you know — people are conflating this as being a part of an issue of what was going on there at the Wendys. They point out that it happened up the street. It wasn't actually there. But really, I think that it's semantics. That zone and that area was, was controlled by-and-large by by demonstrators and — in this case — people that were armed.
Fennessy: Well, you bring up these autonomous zones that are in cities — various cities around the country in the wake of George Floyd, Floyd protests specifically. Help me understand the logic of allowing such a autonomous zone.
Valencia: I think it's it's giving demonstrators the right to express themselves. I think, at least initially, the ability for people who were very upset in a hypercharged situation to feel as though they're, they're taking control of of their own narrative. But if you talk to the police or the city, police officers I've spoken to blame the mayor's politics — big city politics, they call it — for allowing these zones to to flourish and to really sort of get away from control.
And you didn't have police officers there showing up. I mean, you know, we hear about these stories happening in disenfranchized neighborhoods where, you know — I grew up in northeast L.A. and there's parts of Los Angeles where, where you hear notoriously cops don't go in. That's the same in any major big city. And it seems that that's what developed — you see demonstrators who felt as though they don't have a faith in the system. And these are individuals who feel as though police officers only escalate situations, particularly when there is a situation involving an officer and someone who is African-American.
So these zones developed in Seattle, in Washington, D.C., and in cases like Atlanta and in D.C., you saw these zones have had violence and there were shootings, fatal shootings.
Newscaster: Atlanta police had a section of University Avenue close to the Wendys blocked for some time this morning. You can see almost a dozen police vehicles in the road there and that allow them to clear away the barricades a group had set up in front of the fast food restaurant, preventing even...
Valencia: It was earlier this week, on Monday, that the Atlanta Police Department was with city sanitation crews and they cleared out the area. We saw video posted on social media, media, as well as from our local news crews here in Atlanta. Of those police officers going through, removing belongings from demonstrators who had essentially camped out there, who had turned in the Wendys to a makeshift memorial for Rayshard Brooks, who was, who was fatally shot and killed by police.
Fennessy: Well, I want to also talk a little bit about the other events of that weekend because there were other shootings and specifically talk a little bit, if you would, about what happened on Auburn Avenue. Because one of the things I was — it was interesting was, I think the the next day, I was seeing on social media video from Auburn Avenue of all of these people out partying, listening to music on the streets of Auburn Avenue in Edgewood. And then all of a sudden there's panic.
Valencia: God, it was terrifying to watch that, wasn't it? You know, to hear all those gunshots, to hear the "tat tat tat" the sequence of shots, to hear the screams of people running. Auburn Avenue, you know, just, just hours after Secoriea Turner was was shot and killed, officers responded to Auburn Avenue in northeast Atlanta regarding multiple people being shot in that area.
I've talked to gang detectives who are investigating the case. They are unclear whether or not it was involved. That's a line that they're looking into because — actively in that area — there is a gang dispute, a local gang turf war. Fourteen people on that night, July 5th at 1:00 a.m. were struck by gunfire.
Fennessy: Twelve of those victims were in stable condition, but two others died. Nick, seeing the video of the shootings was intense.
Valencia: It was, it was terrifying. That's, that's a historic area. You know, it's, it's an area that does have some lower socioeconomic elements to it. But, you know, Edgewood Ave, which is parallel to Auburn, you know, it's a party spot for, for the youth of our city.
Valencia: You know, it's, it's, it's — it's celebratory location. And to see something like that happened there, I think, was really unnerving to, to, to residents of Atlanta.
Fennessy: When we come back. How gun violence across the city could impact efforts at police reform. This is "Georgia Today."
This is "Georgia Today." We're back with Nick Valencia, an Atlanta based reporter for CNN. A few weeks back, Nick was on the frontlines of the protests here in Atlanta that were sparked by the police shooting in Minneapolis of George Floyd. At one point here, demonstrators even attempted to break into the CNN Center. Nick was there.
Valencia, newcast: We're here inside CNN Center. Where, just in the last 10 minutes, demonstrators have started to come up and down this thoroughfare of Marietta and break out windows of CNN Center. It was just a short time ago that they started shooting what appeared to be beebees at us. I was struck with a beebee pellet.
Fennessy: Nick, how was covering all of these stories affecting you personally?
Valencia: Well, we never want to be the story as journalists. But for me, as a person of color, it makes me as though feel — as I have already felt this for years, being on camera on a national outlet — but I feel a responsibility to lean into my voice, to speak up for my community.
I know every time that I step in front of the camera, it's not just me giving a report, but it's the opportunity for someone who looks like me to look up and see a curly haired, brown face on television. It's not just a CNN reporter going on. I think of it as me representing my community.
I've always thought like that. And I think right now — with the climate going on in the nation, how hypercharged it is, the pandemic going on, how disproportionately it affects communities of color — I feel an even stronger responsibility as a journalist to, you know, to get to get the story right. To call balls and strikes and to be fair, but also to make sure that we give a megaphone to those communities that feel like they don't have a voice and to not be a braindead one — but to really listen, to really listen to what people are saying.
Fennessy: Are you feeling empowered to do that or are you feeling self-conscious about it?
Valencia: I think one of the things that we as journalists do is we self censor more than we actually get censored as, you know, people criticize the media for. There are concerns that we, of course, have — as journalists of color — if we're going to make too much noise, how we're going to be received. Ultimately across the board, not just at CNN, but the people that make the decisions to cover the stories are, are white, male or female.
It makes me a little self-conscious. But I think, right now, what I've seen happen — not just at CNN, but at other media outlets, other organizations across the country — there is effort being made to listen more to what we have to say. Things that we've been saying a long time, stories that go under covered, you know, are being given attention to now.
You know, there was always that critique that stories of children's death didn't get covered unless they were blond haired and blue eyed.
Valencia: Secoriea Turner was a black eight year old child.
Valencia: And to see the attention that her story is given, I think speaks to the magnitude of the ripples that the conversation is having in this country and how it's how it's going.
Fennessy: Yeah, but specifically on the Secoriea Turner shooting. What impact does that have on the Black Lives Matter movement? What's the impact of that on the movement?
Valencia: I think it helps give ammunition to those who may try to discredit the BLM movement. In my conversations with activists here, I have a very strong relationship with the leaders of "The It's Bigger Than You" movement here in the city, and they — they're concerned what it means. You know, if, if people can point to situations like this and say, why should we think Black lives matter when — if you have shootings like this, a Black gunman, suspected black gunman, victim is African-American, you know, you hear this from the activists — if we don't take our lives seriously ourselves, how do we expect others to take our movement seriously?
That conversation is being had right now. And I think, as I mentioned before, it gives people the ability to point to a situation like this and use it against the BLM movement and they're very aware of that.
Valencia: Those within the movement are very upset. Police officers are very upset. People in the city, you know, everyday citizens are very upset to see what happened.
You know, as a fellow journalists of mine put it, no coffin should ever be made for a body that small. And it hurts to see it happen here in the city of Atlanta that, you know, at least I have seen it from an outsider's perspective, having moved here, you know — as a city that has this racial harmony — but even still, it didn't take much to scratch off the layers of this city to see that the same problems that are being had here or across the country are being — are taking place here in the city of Atlanta as well.
Fennessy: Yeah. We've talked a lot in the past, you know, with other guests. And I've had a lot of conversations about this idea of Atlanta's exceptionalism. But, you know, there — there is definitely more than a whiff of PR about that. And what makes us different from anyone else, really?
Valencia: Well, it's in black and white here — in the city. You drive down Ponce de Leon, you turn left onto Briarcliff, where historically white people lived, or you turn right onto Mallen, where historically there were black neighborhoods. This street is the same. The only thing that changes is the name. These things are right in front of us every single day. And for me and the conversations, you know, I married somebody who's who's a local here, and the conversations, you know, are — a lot within friends that are from here, from this city — and there was always something that I celebrated being this embraced by this is my second home.
You know, the, the, the racism that I saw growing up in L.A., I didn't see at the very beginning here. But all of that, you know, as a resident of Atlanta, I mentioned earlier, holding out hope that that violence wouldn't touch here the city — but now, you know, it is and it's happening all across the country. You know, we all wondered as, as the sort of demonstrations were happening, where it was going to happen next? And then it happens here in Atlanta and it breaks your heart as a resident.
Fennessy: Let's talk a little bit about the mood of the Atlanta police force, because right after the Rayshard Brook shooting, Chief Erika Shields resigned. Mayor Bottoms appointed a interim police chief. And there was what they call a blue flu, in which a bunch of officers basically called in sick.
Valencia: That's right. Some officers just decided that they had had enough. They felt that they weren't supported. They felt as though, when Mayor Bottoms came out and said that she was rooting for Rashad Brooks, is that, meant that she was rooting against the officers. I spoke to one police source who's been a member of the Atlanta Police Department for 14, going on 15 years — and worked some of these very dangerous areas — and felt as though the mayor's comments abandoned them at a time when they really needed them most.
What's happening in Atlanta is a microcosm of what's going on across the nation. Here in Atlanta, you saw it, though, really play out in real time, with with, you know, the blue flu. There was at least three zones where officers didn't report. And I remember even getting text messages within our friend groups here in the city of us, you know, all asking ourselves, you know, are we OK? Or, you know, what, "how do you guys feel about this?" And there was a lot of people very nervous about what this meant and what what this could escalate to.
Fennessy: And in terms of, of the long term impact of the blue flu and police morale, what impact is that having on policing in the city?
Valencia: Police morale is — and this is not to, you know, exaggerate — I think, you know, police morale is the lowest it's ever been here in the city and certainly the lowest it's been in the time I've been here in the last 14 years. Officers have have decided to step down. A prominent spokesperson for the communications department left. And from what we understand, it was a result of what happened with Police Chief Erika Shields.
There are other officers who we understand as, as recently as just a couple of weeks ago, were looking into their pensions, trying to see what they can get to retire early. Because, as one officer put it towards me — put it to me — they are one bullet away from dying and one mistake away from an indictment. So they feel that they're not supported by by, their mayor here.
Fennessy: So let's quickly go to the days after Sunday and Monday. So on Sunday, Mayor Bottoms has a press conference with the parents of Secoriea Turner. And, as you mentioned, you know, was really speaking from the heart, as she's been doing a lot over the last month. You know, starting with, with the George Floyd protests and what happened over those days after that and then leading up and after to the Rayshard Brooks shooting. But then also on on Monday, Gov. Kemp gets involved. What does he do?
Valencia: Governor Kemp, at around 4 o'clock, declared a state of emergency. What that did was allowed him to activate as many as a thousand National Guard members to patrol state property, to leave the ability to state officers to patrol the streets. So now you have — as of that night — you have National Guardsmen and women on the streets of Atlanta in a law enforcement capacity.
Fennessy: So they're guarding state property, which frees up the state police, georgia State Police, to do more in city patrol work.
Valencia: That's right. I spoke to someone within the mayor's office, and that's, that's what they told me. This decision was made, you know — if you read the press release that was initially that initially was put out by the governor's office, he said it's, it's — the tough talk is over. It's time for action. And this was the course that they decided to take.
They felt as though the BLM movement was hijacked by people who wanted to use it as a platform for violence, that were using the chaos in the city as an opportunity to do their own acts. That's their interpretation of what's going on. And they felt as though that the only way — or one of the ways — that they could put an end to that and to, as they say, protect the city of Atlanta is to deploy the National Guard.
News Anchor: Let's bring in now the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms. Do you agree with Governor Kemp decision to declare a state of emergency, activate the National Guard?
Lance Bottoms: No. And the irony of that is that I asked Governor Kemp to allow us to mandate mask in Atlanta and he said no. But he has called in the National Guard without asking if we needed the National Guard.
Fennessy: I think about the relationship between the two predecessors of Mayor Bottoms and Governor Kemp, Kasim Reed and Nathan Deal, both opposite political parties, but had a cordial — I mean, in fact, a productive relationship. What what's the relationship now between Mayor Bottom and Gov. Kemp? Gov. Kemp seems to be going in and saying, "You don't know how to do your job. I'm going to do it for you."
Valencia: Well, it seems to be very fluid. You have them at the very least on the same page about facial coverings. But you mention, you know, the predecessors, the, the very healthy relationship that Mayor Reed had with Gov. Deal. It doesn't seem to be the case here. Governor, Gov. Kemp, you know, this when he came into office, came into a lot of controversy about voter suppression. And I think that's an issue that Mayor Bottoms has been very vocal about. It doesn't seem to be the friendly relationship.
We don't know, we should say what's going on behind the scenes. I don't know how much they talk. I just do know, if we're if we're comparing the past administrations, it's not what it was. The relationship between the mayor and the governor is not as strong as it was in past administrations.
Fennessey: Kind of looking ahead, what impact does all that's happened over the last week — over the last month, in fact — have on the efforts at police reform, or redefinition of what police, policing looks like in the city of Atlanta?
Valencia: I think, early on, after the shooting of Rayshard Brooks and all the demonstrations that we saw across the city, the movement was really feeling like that there were some traction and their voices were being heard. We've seen that fizzle out. And there are some that are wondering now if that reform will ever come.
Steps have been taken in cities like Minneapolis. We've seen city councils pass reform. That has yet to happen in the city. Instead, we see this very contentious relationship playing out, even still now, between leaders in the city like Mayor Bottoms, police officers like the one I mentioned, and then the activists that feel that they want change to happen.
Fennessy: And you can't forget that all of this is happening against the backdrop of a global pandemic. And it has to play a huge role if, if not only because you can't really speak to people one-on-one and you can't get into a room and talk about things. So, so things are sort of you're left to your own devices.
Valencia: That's right. And, you know, we saw so many demonstrators out there with facial coverings. I interviewed Mayor Bottoms as she was out there. She took off her facial covering to try to connect with the people.
Valencia: It is a really difficult thing to do right now when for three months, all of us were stuck on our households. How do you create an active dialog with change and with traction if you can't even get into a room without thinking, "am I going to contract this, this virus could kill me."
Fennessy: Yeah. And in fact, Mayor Bottoms herself is positive for COVID.
Valencia: It hit home and it's head home for a lot of us. You know, I am a reporter based in Atlanta. But I've been covering a lot of what's been going on, the lead reporter at CNN for what's been happening at the CDC and the White House task force.
Yeah, it's it's almost as though these demonstrations, people decided that they were going to live alongside this virus or live with the virus because change to them mattered that much. What, what does it matter to us if we're going to live, if these are the circumstances that we're going to live in? I think right now it's a time for that conversation to happen in this city — of change, of reform there, of what it looks like, of what that means.
If, you know, police officers and — as we see it in the conventional sense — if that's the way things need to keep going, you know. There's this strong movement to defund the police department and put it into more of social services. You know, a lot of the calls that police receive are of people with mental health issues. How is that being handled? How how is police training going to be addressed? Yeah, you know, recertification: should police officers have to be able to — or should be police officers have to recertify with gun training. How much, how much are they actually being trained beyond the basis of their, you know, basic training and using their handgun?
You know, we saw for 40 minutes an officer try to de-escalate a situation with Rayshard Brooks only for another officer, you know, for that to turn. And we all see what happened. I think it's time for the city of Atlanta to put aside this, this phrase of "we're a city that's too busy to hate: and realize that hate is still very much alive and if not alive, it's flourishing here, too, in this city.
And we need to address the ugliness of what's happening. And I think that starts with a very real, difficult, uncomfortable conversations of police reform.
Fennessy: We're no different than anyone else.
Valencia: That's right.
Our thanks to CNN reporter Nick Valencia. Wednesday night saw more violence, this time in east Atlanta, where three people were shot and wounded, including a 9-year-old boy. All are expected to survive.
Meanwhile, Atlanta police have yet to announce arrests in any of the five homicides that occurred last weekend. I'm Steve Fennessy. This is Georgia Today, a production of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Our producers, Sean Powers, thanks for listening.