We have laid out all of the many ways in which other cities and states have chosen to offer care to their most vulnerable citizens. We hope you, Mayor Bottoms, and your entire office will make the deliberate choice to do the same.
By The People’s Response Atlanta Coalition
Honorable Keisha Lance Bottoms,
We write this letter to you as a collective of concerned citizens and community organizers deeply impacted by the insufficient attempt from the Office of the Mayor to protect and care for the residents of the City of Atlanta. This collective, known formally as The People’s Response (TPR) Coalition, formed in part to help fill the gap in resources available to Atlanta’s most vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 global pandemic. However, we believe that it is your responsibility as Mayor to enact policy that will provide relief to your constituents and stem the progression of this pandemic on a local level.
On Sunday, March 15, you declared a state of emergency for the City of Atlanta. Since then, on Tuesday, March 17, and Thursday, March 19, you issued executive orders calling for a 60-day temporary halt on residential evictions and filings, and immediate closing and restriction of commercial businesses, respectively. Following these, you issued a 14-day stay-at-home order on March 23. Each of these were necessary steps to addressing the threat that COVID-19 poses in Atlanta. However, these executive actions alone are not consummate with the severity of the crisis.
In the midst of this pandemic, houseless people continue to be unhoused while shelters are overrun and no longer admitting new residents; Black and other people of color communities continue to be overpoliced; sex workers and those who navigate substance use go unprotected, and other marginalized communities continue to be underserved. Furthermore, there have been international increases in intimate partner violence calls due to the practice of self-quarantine and social-distancing. Although these practices are a public health necessity, they serve as a large barrier for those in abusive relationships to get support or help from their available community resources. It is imperative that the city prioritizes the needs of the more vulnerable citizens living here.
This being the case, we have written a list of recommendations for you and your office to properly address the needs of community members in Atlanta. Each of these recommendations are supported by research and models for implementation which prove that they are not only necessary but completely possible.
Our recommendations are as follows:
1. We request a moratorium on arrests and bookings for nonviolent and minor offenses, such as traffic violations, civil code, misdemeanors, etc. We know that this demand is not only reasonable but one that can be done swiftly. We have seen city and state leaders around the country in places like Philadelphia, Chelan County WA, Fort Worth and Denver, as well as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put this into practice within a matter of days.
Arrests for charges that do not apply need to be postponed until the court system is functioning at full capacity to ensure due process. As we know that “gathering place” businesses have been temporarily closed, it makes the most sense to halt all arrests for charges such as shoplifting and soliciting—as there will be little-to-no patrons due to these closings. Further, we suggest the halt of any arrests related to prostitution, possession of marijuana under 1 oz, jaywalking, failure to produce a license, speeding, FTAs, public intoxication, trespassing, vandalism, and disorderly conduct. During a pandemic in which the virus is spread through close proximity and physical contact, it is in the best interest of police officers and the public to limit the amount of contact they have with community members through arrests and bookings. Officers need to deprioritize minor, petty, and otherwise nonviolent offenses effective immediately.
2. We request a moratorium on rent, mortgage, utilities, evictions, & parking payment. Many—if not most—Atlanta residents are being laid off, suspended, or fired indefinitely due to COVID-19 and will have difficulty paying essential rent, mortgage, utility, and parking payments for at least ninety (90) days. Evicting residents during this time increases that financial hardship and puts the entire community at greater risk. This 90-day suspension would give Atlanta residents the time to find new employment, acquire their first check, and have enough funds to circumvent indefinite eviction, increased debt, and all other state violence as it pertains to housing and housing insecurity. We have seen this policy implemented at the national level when President Trump and the Housing and Urban Development agency suspended evictions and foreclosures, as well as at the local level in comparable cities like Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Boston, and more.
3. We request immediate emergency housing for people without homes—including allocating emergency housing funds to house individuals escaping Intimate Partner Violence, and we call for the suspension of the enforcement of “squatter laws” during this time while people figure out means to protect themselves from the harms of this pandemic. The City can and should allocate funds to get hotel/motel/emergency shelter housing for people currently living without homes who cannot self-isolate, quarantine, or practice self-distancing. We KNOW full well that the City of Atlanta has the means to do so, especially in a state of emergency where the safety of the public depends on self-isolation. Around the country, we have seen state and federal legislators enact policy, reallocate funds, and call for hearings to protect unhoused populations in this moment of crisis—as seen in LA County as well as California overall.
4. We request the immediate release and resourcing of people detained in the Atlanta City Detention Center. In the beginning stages of an international pandemic, of which we have minimal knowledge as to how the virus is cured and how it affects us, it is best not to crowd the jails and one of the easiest ways to do this is to release all 100+ people incarcerated in ACDC—particularly because this is a commitment you have already made with the closing of the jail. As such, all people detained pretrial or for offenses categorized above shall be released on their own recognizance immediately; each of them should get access to housing, transportation, and other emergency services available from the city if they elect to do so.
As it stands, this demand has been met by several local and state leaders nationally, through the release of over 150 now-formerly incarcerated people in Hillsborough County, Florida; the release of formerly incarcerated people throughout New York City jails, Los Angeles jails, and Cleveland jails; as well as the release of formerly incarcerated people in Lake County.
5. We request that you reduce overall police presence in highly vulnerable neighborhoods, especially zones 1, 3, and 5. These neighborhoods are more vulnerable to the virus and more likely to spread it due to the increased amount of street-level sex workers, unhoused residents, and people reliant on public transit. These neighborhoods also tend to be more heavily policed—while simultaneously experiencing slower police and EMT responses, and with regular stops/arrests, police pose the threat of putting the residents of these neighborhoods—as well as themselves, their families, and all of Atlanta—at greater risk.
We believe that it is your responsibility as mayor to respond swiftly and thoughtfully to these demands, as it is both your civic duty to care for the residents of Atlanta and is part of your oath to protect us. We have laid out all of the many ways in which other cities and states have chosen to offer care to their most vulnerable citizens. We hope you, Mayor Bottoms, and your entire office will make the deliberate choice to do the same.
The People’s Response Atlanta Coalition and our supporters:
Black Youth Project 100 – Mecca Chapter
Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative
Housing Justice League
Women On The Rise
Racial Justice Action Center
Access Reproductive Care-Southeast
Feminist Women’s Health Center
Southerners On New Ground
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
Spark Reproductive Justice NOW
SMC Campaign Against Racism
Justice for All Coalition
Jewish Voice for Peace Atlanta
Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America
Panthers for Black Feminism
Asian-Americans Advancing Justice
Atlanta Queer + Asian
Wear Your Voice Magazine