by: Shannon Cofrin Gaggero
May 17, Mayor Dickens wrote an op-ed published by the Atlanta Journal Constitution exploiting the tragic mass shooting in Midtown Atlanta, which injured four and claimed the life of my friend, Amy St. Pierre. Dickens used her death in an attempt to drum up support for the deeply unpopular police training center, commonly referred to as “Cop City.” He exploited Amy while simultaneously erasing her; her name is not mentioned once in his piece.
The same day, the AJC released another op-ed, written by Bill Torpy, who disparaged and dismissed the hundreds of Atlantans who participated in nearly eight hours of historic public comment speaking against Cop City during the Atlanta City Council meeting on Monday, May 15. In previous writing, Torpy accused supporters of the Stop Cop City movement of being “vagabond out of towners” and “privileged, transient warriors.” In his latest piece, Torpy had the audacity to call the nearly 500 Atlanta residents who took off work, left their families or generally made time out of their lives to engage in the democratic process as “twitterverse-activists.”
Our community is already reeling and grieving from the loss of our beloved Amy. There is a compounding hurt of having to bear witness to her death being used to support Mayor Dickens’ regressive vision of public safety, a vision Amy did not share.
I submitted a version of this op-ed to the AJC, hoping they would consider a piece that pushed back on how Amy’s life, values and beliefs are being erased in the Mayor’s relentless pursuit of Cop City. I hoped they would consider a counter-opinion to Cop City, especially in light of the historic display of public dissent against the project this week.
I was ignored.
The AJC is owned by Cox Enterprises, which is a major donor to Cop City, and they are fulfilling their role within “The Atlanta Way” ecosystem. The Atlanta Way silences citizen voices in favor of corporate interests.
Thankfully, we have independent, burgeoning outlets like Atlanta Community Press Collective who are brave enough to publish dissenting opinions. Let me tell you how I know Amy.
I met Amy St. Pierre through the Atlanta chapter of Resource Generation (RG), a community of young people (18-35) with wealth and/or class privilege committed to the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power. As we talked, we realized we were actually neighbors, that our kids would attend the same local public school when they became school age and even that our parents lived across the street from one another. These happy synergies made us fast friends, but what ultimately bound us together was our deep commitment to creating a better world for our kids.
When Amy aged out of RG, she joined me as a member of Solidaire Network, a community of individuals with access to wealth who organize resources to movements for social justice. Amy was one of the most politically rigorous, gigantic-hearted humans I ever got the privilege to learn from and work with on local and regional campaigns. That is why in the wake of her devastating loss, I felt compelled to speak out and correct the narrative being pushed by local officials.
At the press conference announcing that Amy’s killer had been captured, Mayor Andre Dickens and Cobb County Police Chief Stuart VanHoozer painted the picture that it was dedicated officers and high-tech policing who were the heroes of the day. Dickens’ distasteful Op-Ed was published days after historic and unprecedented public outcry against Cop City. It’s not far-fetched to assume Mayor Dickens didn’t mention Amy by name because she was known to oppose Cop City. In March, we took our kids to the kick-off event for the Defend the Forest week of action. Artwork by Amy’s first grader, which reads, ‘Stop Copy City!’ decorates my office.
Rather than thoughts and prayers or, worse yet, increased funding for policing, Amy would have wanted our leaders to demand common sense gun laws. Amy would have called for investment in the things that actually create public safety—housing, education, health care and social services. Mayor Dickens has proposed a city budget where first responders will receive a staggering 45% of our city’s tax dollars. If we’re truly looking for a “balanced approach”, as the Mayor opined, I’d say we spend quite enough on the police. How about sending the $30 million earmarked for Cop City to Policing Alternatives and Diversions instead?
Amy’s life work was dedicated to public health and activism, and as someone who researched maternal mortality, she was acutely aware of the racial disparities in accessing quality health care. The fact that her assailant was struggling to find adequate mental health care only underscores the deep tragedy of this event.
Sadly, it was easier for Deion Patterson, a man with prior arrests, to acquire a gun than proper mental health care. This serves as a stark reminder of the inadequate gun control laws in Georgia. Our state does not require background checks or a permit to buy and own a gun, leaving a dangerous loophole that can lead to more tragedies like the one that cut Amy’s beautiful life short.
If the Mayor truly wants to honor Amy St. Pierre, he will stop using her death as an excuse for increased policing and surveillance. But I don’t expect Mayor Dickens to listen. This administration has proven themselves to be antagonistic toward the public. So I hope you join me, as community members, in advancing Amy’s vision of a safer, more just society by advocating for common sense gun laws and investments in housing, education, health care and social services. We can achieve her vision of public safety, together.