In 2015, after a white supremacist killed nine people in a racist attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, civil rights advocates noticed that an important word was missing from the initial coverage and rhetoric: “terrorism.” It was easy to recognize the shooting as a hate crime, The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb* wrote at the time, but it should have been just as easy to understand it as “nothing less than an act of terror.” To make his point, Cobb noted that the United States’ first federal anti-terrorism law, known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, was enacted to protect Black people’s constitutional rights. (The KKK Act received renewed attention this week after a former president was charged with violating it.)
The Charleston shooter was never charged with domestic terrorism because no such crime technically exists in the federal law. After 9/11, however, many states passed their own such laws, and began strengthening them after the 2015 massacre. One of those states was Georgia, which in 2017 vastly broadened its definition of “domestic terrorism” to include some property crimes — much to the concern of civil rights advocates, who argued that it would be used to target nonviolent protesters.
And in Atlanta, as protesters take on an 85-acre police training complex slated for development in nearby forestland, it appears that their concerns have borne out. In recent months, dozens of people demonstrating against Cop City, and a legal observer from the Southern Policy Law Center, have been charged under the state’s terror law. This usage of a law ostensibly designed to prosecute deadly, targeted violence — a subversion that became particularly visible after police shot and killed a protester in January — is just one of many ways in which officials have signaled where their priorities lie.
As The Trace’s Fairriona Magee reported this week in partnership with Capital B Atlanta, if you look at its pocketbook, the city has made its position clear. In 2021, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the city’s first Office of Violence Reduction, charged with dispersing $5 million in grants and coordinating efforts between community-led violence intervention programs. Two years on, the office has yet to launch its first initiative. Meanwhile, the city has more than doubled its pledge to Cop City, rising to a staggering $67 million. “The Office of Violence Reduction is a pretty explicit example that politicians are good at using language,” Dr. Mark Spencer, a physician and advocate for nonpolicing alternatives to violence prevention, told Magee. “There is a whole lot of language about holistic approaches including violence prevention, but a majority of that funding was going to the police, anyway.”
*Jelani Cobb is a member of The Trace’s board of directors. Read more about our editorial independence policy and our financial transparency policy on our About page. (And, for what it’s worth, this writer didn’t realize Cobb was a board member until an editor pointed it out.)
From Our Team
As Cop City Moves Forward, Anti-Violence Activists See ‘Broken Promises’
Atlanta was expected to invest $5 million in violence intervention programs, but organizers say those commitments have fallen short.
Is There a Path to Gun Reform Without Strengthening Democracy?
For Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from Georgia, voting rights protections and gun reform “are part and parcel of the same project.”
What to Know This Week
A federal jury unanimously voted to impose the death penalty on the shooter who carried out the 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh — the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. Survivors and family members of those killed met the verdict with mixed emotions. [The New York Times]
Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed last year in the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, announced that she’s running for mayor in a special election in November. “If I’m going to be staying here,” she said in an interview, “I want it to be the best possible town it can be for my children and for the rest of the community.” [Texas Monthly]
The late Michigan Representative John D. Dingell, a powerful Democrat who sat on the National Rifle Association’s board of directors during his tenure in Congress, gets a lot of credit for shaping modern American gun policy. But he wasn’t the only lawmaker who helped the NRA become the country’s preeminent firearms lobbying force. [The New York Times]
Four years after the racist massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, advocacy groups serving survivors and family members of those killed say America’s immigration system has compounded the trauma of the shooting. Though victims are eligible for visas, few have been approved — leaving many without authorization to work and unable to access government assistance. [The Dallas Morning News]
The two Tennessee state lawmakers who were expelled by Republicans for participating in an anti-gun violence protest won their House seats back in a special election Thursday. Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, Democrats representing Nashville and Memphis, respectively, were quickly reinstated by local officials after their expulsion but still had to run for reelection. [NBC]
The mass shooting at a housing project in South Baltimore last month was the worst in recent city history. Why did police call for cleaners, who potentially destroyed crucial DNA evidence, before processing the crime scene? [The Baltimore Banner]
Pamela A. Smith, D.C.’s new chief of police, isn’t a typical pick for the District’s top cop: The “pistol-packin’ preacher,” as she bills herself, is relatively new to the force, with few connections to city leaders but a preternatural ability to stir a crowd. Amid a rise in shootings and carjackings, can Smith keep the city safe? [The Washington Post]
Six months after the mass shooting at Star Ballroom in Monterey Park, California, survivors are still dealing with the fallout. For Lloyd Gock, who credits the dance hall with helping him emerge from a prior depression, dancing is proving to be a healing force once again. [Los Angeles Times]
Gwendolyn Lavonne Riddick, 40, “always knew” she wanted to be a doctor — even as a kid, Riddick told the Greensboro News & Record last year, she was certain that she wanted to help people. Riddick was shot and killed at a park in Eden, North Carolina, last weekend. Her path into medicine wasn’t easy: Riddick grew up in a big family, and money was often tight. But her parents were supportive, pushing her to continue her education after the birth of her first child. After finishing high school, Riddick graduated early from East Carolina University, and ultimately became a practicing OB-GYN. She was committed to treating her patients with acceptance and compassion, and dedicated to giving back to her community. “I’ve always been inspired to help others,” Riddick said last year. “It’s just something I’ve always had in my heart.”
Oregon’s Greater Idaho Movement Echoes a Long History of Racism in the Region
“Over time, Greater Idaho has slowly revealed itself to be something of a poisoned apple: framed as a gift to discontented rural people, but actually a front for far-right culture war talking points, including racist ones. … To become Idahoans, McCaw explained, would mean ‘to have traditional values that focus on faith, freedom, individualism and tradition.’ He pointed to Oregon’s liberal voting record on gun control, abortion and drug legalization.” [High Country News]
“If you stop dancing, then the shooter got what he wanted, which is to terrorize us into not being able to dance.”
— Lloyd Gock, a dancer at Star Ballroom in Monterey Park, California, on the community’s recovery from the mass shooting in January, to the Los Angeles Times