As it Focused on So Many Problems Confronting Georgia, Atlanta Elected a Truly Problematic District Attorney

I love Atlanta. I first moved there in 1997 as a freshman at Morehouse College. I became a man there. Got married there. Got my first real job as a high school civics teacher there. Became a leader there. Three of our kids were born there. In many ways, even though I am in New York nowadays, Atlanta is home for me. I lived there for nearly twenty years. Most of my family still lives there.

That’s why it’s actually painful for me to write what I am about to write, and say what I am about to say.

Last year, Atlanta fucked up and elected one of the worst DA’s of any big city in the nation. Somehow, as almost every other big city in the country has found a way to elect real progressive change agents, Atlanta went backwards and elected the preferred candidate of the Fraternal Order of Police.

This past week, Atlanta District Attorney Fani Willis did exactly what many of us predicted she would do - she is tanking the police violence cases she inherited. Local police who backed her campaign in every way are now getting exactly what they paid for as DA Willis has announced that she is sending the case against the officer that shot and killed Rayshard Brooks to Georgia’s Republican Attorney General to try.

Her rationale is bogus. She clearly doesn’t want the case.

Over the past four years since I’ve helped to lead the organization Real Justice, we’ve elected bold new District Attorneys in nearly 25 cities across the nation - including Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, and more. They are changing the local justice systems from the inside out.

What’s wild is that Atlanta had the same DA, Paul Howard, for the past 30 years. He was the DA when I was at Morehouse a generation ago. He needed to be replaced. And instead of Paul retiring, or being defeated by someone better, Atlanta took two steps back.

In some ways, Atlanta, and the whole state of Georgia, was in a struggle for its political future in 2020 - as it ultimately elected two new United States Senators and helped push Joe Biden over the top as well. It was a mammoth undertaking. And I think those victories, which can’t be understated, took so much focus and attention, that the local DA’s race ended up being an afterthought for most voters.

What’s so painful about this reality is that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and even Joe Biden don’t set justice policies and practices for Atlanta - the DA does. Nobody has more power in your local justice system than your district attorney. And while Atlanta replaced some truly bad people in some roles, it needs to go back to the drawing board in the DA’s office.

I’ll close with a very hard thought. It’s not enough to have a Black woman as DA. One of the worst DA’s in modern American history was a Black woman in Los Angeles named Jackie Lacey. She was elected with great fanfare as she shattered the glass ceiling there - becoming the first Black woman to ever have that role.

And she basically became an oppressor - doing the bidding of the white supremacist power structure at every turn. She refused to ever hold police accountable as officers in the city literally kill hundreds of people all while sending more people to death row than damn near any DA in America during her time in office. She was a disaster.

And we need to accept the fact that having a Black woman in a position of power is not automatically a good thing. In fact, I’d argue it’s sexist and even bigoted to think so. We have to vet the policies and philosophies and histories of the people we’re supporting. And when we don’t do that, we lose.

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