The sight of decrepit, abandoned buildings can evoke many different reactions. They can inspire or disgust, educate or anger, thrill or frighten. Abandoned buildings serve as a reminder of our history---as well as our disappointments---and the art created of them can paint a vivid picture of urban decay.
Being the oddball out of capital cities, Atlanta was not built on a major body of water. Instead, it grew as a central railroad hub of ill repute. It was a city of prostitution, gambling, and violence for a long time. This history must be remembered in order to fully understand its present. With a foundation built around the railroad, it was only a matter of time before the technical advancements of the Industrial Revolution made that form of transportation obsolete. Since then Atlanta has recreated its status as ‘transportation hub’ through the Hartsfield International Airport (the biggest in the states). And with the airport, the city became again a center for prostitution.
The majority of Atlanta’s history is riddled with racism, capitalist incentives, and middle class individualism, all factors that led to the ‘white flight’ into the suburbs of the 60s and 70s. Large amounts of middle and upper class taxpayers left urban residences for plush, safe suburban living, taking with them millions of tax dollars which left the city of Atlanta struggling. Decades pushed forward and the suburbs of Atlanta (especially to the North of the city) flourished as the city itself fell into disrepair. Once funded schools, public works buildings, prisons, and rail yards emptied then decayed.
The city is sprinkled with these relics of a bygone era, including the main characters of the photographs from two high school photographers, Dani P. (age 14, grade 9) and Devin B. (age 17, grade 12). Through their work, Dani and Devin tell us the story of a forgotten Atlanta, an abandoned Atlanta. They use these dilapidated leftovers to explain the consequences of urban decay and shed some much needed light into the stories of the abandoned.
When most people think of gangs and the criminal activity often associated with them problems of the inner-city may come to mind -– issues that are far from their manicured suburban lawns, something that could never touch their lives directly.
But the demographic makeup and geographic location of gangs are changing, according to Rebecca Petersen, author of Understanding Contemporary Gangs in America and a Criminal Justice Professor at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta*.
“We have seen this trend of gangs moving out of the city and into the suburbs for 20 years now,” Petersen said. “We don’t associate the suburbs with people being poor or homeless, but it’s one of the fastest growing populations [in the suburbs].”
While gangs are not exclusively comprised of low-income members, the correlation between harsh economic conditions and the proliferation of gang activity has been documented in communities around the country since at least the late 1980s.
In the decade leading up to 2010, the suburban poor in major-metropolitan suburbs grew by 53 percent, compared to an increase of 23 percent within the cities, according to the Census Bureau. As a result, the majority of the traditionally urban poor population now resides in suburban communities throughout the United States. In 2010, suburbs housed about a third of the nation’s poor, outranking major urban centers that accounted for about 28 percent of the impoverished population.
Part of the problem, Petersen noted, is that many suburbs and outlying towns don’t have well developed social support systems or infrastructure to deal with the influx.
A number of factors contribute to the shift of population to the suburbs, including immigration, availability of affordable and subsidized housing and economic stagnation. According to a 2009 study by the National Youth Gang Center, quality of life issues, such as employment or educational opportunities, were the most significant factors in gang member migration, and not the expansion of existing criminal activity.
“More often than not it’s not a gang migration, but an individual migration,” said George Knox, Director of the National Gang Crime Research Center, adding that family ties and economic opportunities usually underpin the relocation of gang members. “It’s not as if [a gang] suddenly got together and took a vote on whether to move.”
Nationally, gangs have been migrating from the inner city to suburban communities for more than three decades, starting slowly in the 1970’s and becoming “entrenched in many suburban communities across the nation” during the 1990s, according to the "Attorney General's Report to Congress on the Growth of Violent Street Gangs in Suburban Areas" in 2008. According to the same report, suburban gang migration also contributed to an increase in violent crime, including homicide, within a number of the suburban communities they moved to.
For example, in 2007 law enforcement officials in Irvington, N.J., a Newark suburb, reported 23 homicides for the year – 20 of which were gang related.
“The suburbs just aren’t geared for this type of issue,” Knox said. “Usually [the suburbs are] more vulnerable, and gang members know this.”
According to Petersen, most gang-related violent crime was directed at rival gang members, while a variety of less-serious offenses made up the majority of overall gang criminal activity.
Looking at arrests in Cobb County, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, Petersen found that about 60 percent of gang member arrests were for misdemeanor offenses. The most common crimes included property damage, drug possession, theft and burglary – along with arrests for robbery, aggravated assault and statutory rape.
From Atlanta, a closer look:
In metro Atlanta, gangs have long been seen as a largely black, inner-city problem. But when Peterson moved to the city in 2002 she was “shocked” to learn that the majority of gangs were of Hispanic origin and mostly operated away from the city center.
“Immigrants are moving to the suburbs as their first step when arriving here in the United States,” Petersen said, “where before they would typically go to the cities, and then the suburbs.”
In Cobb County, Ga., the focus of Petersen’s recent research, Hispanics account for about 74 percent of the known gang population – a demographic trend that is mirrored in national data.
“All you have to do is drive up and down the highway in Atlanta to see the evidence of gang migration,” Knox said.” There’s MS 13 (a notorious Hispanic street gang) markings prominently displayed everywhere.”
Unlike in the past, many of these gangs don’t claim “turf,” or a given geographic area with strict boundaries, as their own, Petersen said. Instead, members can be scattered across a wide area and often travel outside their own neighborhood to commit criminal activity.
Gang recruitment, especially among Hispanics, largely takes place in middle school where kids are still impressionable and have a stronger desire to fit in than older teens, Petersen said. For law enforcement, it’s also a time to drive home the dangers and consequences associated with gang life.
Since Cobb County’s inception of the Cobb Anti-Gang Enforcement (CAGE) Unit in 2002, the operation has documented more than 53 different gangs with more than 600 known members. Petersen said the actual number of gang members is likely three times that of known members.
Gang involvement declined throughout the late 90S until hitting an all-time low in 2003. Since then, the number of gangs around the country has slowly crept back up, but still hasn’t hit previous highs. Gang activity continues to be largely centered around major metropolitan areas, with two-thirds of all gangs residing, the National Gang Center reports.
*This is a publication of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University.
I was in Johannesburg in 1993, before the rise of the anti-apartheid government, when the streets throbbed with uncertainty about the future.
The political leadership was trying to decide if the fall of apartheid would be peaceful or bloody. The ambiguity hanging in the air made it hard to get a bead on the general direction of things.
But you could find clues. You just had to search for them among the people of that huge industrial city, in their voices, their writings and especially, in their art.
And that’s what the graffiti I saw off a dingy street in the heart of the city was; stark, explosive, powerful, art.
They were three together, aligned as cartoon panels, projecting the power that was the oppressed majority.
The first, a landscape dominated by smokestacks, belching smoke into the sky, with the caption, “We are The Economy...”
In the second panel the smokestacks begin to fold downward, taking on the look of fingers, with the caption, “...We can...”
In the third panel, the stacks have turned into a fist, and the caption simply reads, “...Shut it Down...”
“We are The Economy, We can, Shut it Down,” captured pretty much everything you needed to know about who, ultimately, was going to win the struggle for the new South Africa and how they, the victors, were going to do it.
That’s what graffiti can do. As effectively as a particular Dali of the late 1930s, a mural of the streets can capture the moment.
Then again, it can also be garbage, blight on public and private property, a disgusting reminder of the shortcomings of a society.
We’ve got some of both in my part of downtown Atlanta -- a nice in-town neighborhood called Virginia Highlands -- the well-done works of graffiti, those renditions worthy of a show somewhere (if you could just haul the slab of concrete into a gallery) and the stuff barely passing as doodles that, if anything, qualifies as the idiots stuff that sadly defaces... well, graffiti.
Two clusters come to mind in my neighborhood. One is aside rail tracks just off a Kroger parking lot, and the other under an ornate bridge near one of our city’s parks.
Of course, these are just snapshots of one corner of one neighborhood of one big city. There are endless examples, good and bad, in your city as well.
Know some good examples? Send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org But, please, we only want to see the good stuff, the best of the best. No doodles, please. Keep the profanity, the nudies, the stuff in bad taste, to yourself and the wall it defaces. We want art. Please include where the graffiti is located, the city and the neighborhood if possible, the date and time of day would be cool, as well as your name, if you want the photo credit.
And, if you know the artists of any of these, or if you are an artist, please let us know. Or better yet, have them get in contact. We would love to talk to them.
Although we are hoping for some works with the power of an anti-apartheid mural, we are content just to celebrate in the artistry.
- Getting Up: Improving Youth Outcomes with Graffiti in Denver
- From Graffiti to Fine Art: KAWS at the High
- Gallery: The Graffiti Project on Bokeh
|When a Jersey City teenager started tagging and defacing public advertisements back in the early 1990’s, he had no clue it would turn into a lucrative art career. But that’s the story of Brian Donnelly, better known as “KAWS,” that has led him to a multi-sight exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.
Perched on the top floor above the High’s Picasso to Warhol exhibit, KAWS’ installment “DOWN TIME” seems to bring the Modernism housed in the levels below into the modern times they helped create.
His work is strange, yet strikingly familiar, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s essentially a commentary on pop-culture, drawn from pop culture and stamped on pop culture -– it has become pop culture. KAWS has taken on the manipulation (or perhaps re-imagination) of such iconic characters as Mickey Mouse, The Simpsons and Sponge Bob Square Paints. His street-art style dots urban encampments around the globe and offers imagery virtually every culture can relate to.
The High exhibition features a number of these icons, including a 16-foot tall sculpture of Mickey Mouse-like sculpture dubbed “Companion” in the museum’s piazza. A florescent color palette and tight cropped compositions of cartoonish features make a gridded install of 27 round paintings pop off the wall with a questioning familiarity. The images appear as if part of a larger story and narrative unfolding just out of frame (or on your TV screen at home) as you go on about your life, from advertisement to advertisement.
As the young artist gained popularity back in the ‘90s, his subversive images -- scrawled on billboards, bus stops and phone booths -- became hot commodities. Eventually, this work would prove to be a precursor to actual collaboration with commercial photographers and brands.
When KAWS met British photographer David Sims, who happened to have shot a number of the ad campaigns KAWS had worked on top of, a few years back it was the start of a series that would find its way to the walls of the High. KAWS took his acrylic paints to Sims’s actual photos, producing a unique infusion of two rival forms of accepted popular culture that constituted a sizable portion of his installment at the High.
Since the early days, KAWS has also branched out from graffiti -– far out. He doesn’t even do graffiti anymore, at least not on city walls, but the elements of his youth are unmistakable and irreplaceable in his work. Simply put, KAWS has his hands in everything from limited-edition vinyl toys and t-shirt design to fine art painting and sculpting. That also puts him at the crossroads of a variety of different worlds. For toy collectors he’s the toy maker, for graffiti artists he’s the street artist, for art aficionados he’s the painter.
Yet somehow his work finds a strange continuity between distinct groups with unique tastes, in the United States and abroad. In this ever more interconnected world it’s entirely possible, more than anything else, that KAWS’ work illustrates we’re all part of a global culture, transversing borders and long standing notions of what individuality and uniqueness actually are.
“KAWS: DOWN TIME” will be on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta until May 20, 2012.
iPhoneography credits: Clay Duda/JJIE.
- Getting Up: Improving Youth Outcomes with Graffiti in Denver
- From the Editor: Art and Vandalism, Under the Bridge
- Gallery: The Graffiti Project on Bokeh
ATLANTA -- Hundreds of Trayvon Martin supporters gathered to chants of “I am Trayvon” in Downtown Atlanta on Monday, exactly one month after the Florida teen was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in an Orlando suburb.
Bands of student demonstrators, mainly organized by student groups from nearby universities, joined activists, community members and a long list of organizers on the steps of the state capital to call for the arrest of George Zimmerman – the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who claimed to have shot the 17-year-old in self-defense.
“It’s a general issue of justice,” said Richard Hunter, 42, who attended the rally with his nine-year-old son, Matt.
“I think we’ve seen that when we get involved things can change,” Hunter said about the importance of getting young people involved in justice issues. “A lot of people sit back and act like nothing is going to happen instead of showing up. So I decided to show up.”
The hodge-podge of protestors also challenged Georgia’s own “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of deadly-force if you fear your life is in danger.
Zimmerman admitted to shooting the teen, but claimed self-defense under a similar Florida law and has not been arrested.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Morehouse student Jonathon Howard said to a cheering crowd, delivering a still powerful quote more than half a century after it was first penned by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Many protestors carried bags of Skittles and wore hooded sweatshirts adorned with the “I am Trayvon” slogan despite temperatures in the 80s. Martin was wearing a hoody and carrying a bag of Skittles when he was shot and killed returning from a local 7-Eleven in Sanford, Fla. He was unarmed.
Demonstrations in more than half a dozen major cities around the country marked the anniversary. Seventy-three percent of Americans said they felt Zimmerman should be arrested and face charges for the death, according to a recent CNN poll.
In Florida, a special prosecutor has been assigned to investigate the case. A grand jury is scheduled to begin deliberation on the case April 10.
Earlier in the day, Sanford officials confirmed an altercation ensued between Martin and Zimmerman prior to the fatal shot. Signs of the scuffle appeared in the original police reports, but had not been confirmed by law enforcement. City officials also announced a replacement for the Sanford Police Chief who stepped down, at least temporarily, last week amid community outrage over the department’s handling of the case.
Longtime civil rights activists Rev Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Martin’s parents and supporters for a rally in Sanford.
“It’s justice for someone who hasn’t gotten any,” Joanna Carter, 23, said back in Atlanta. “If you let it continue this just ain’t right, no matter the color.”
Photo credit: Clay Duda/JJIE
No one really questions how effective social media can be these days. Just look back across the wreckage of any number of despotic regimes in the Arab World or the 70 million plus views of a YouTube posting that may help lead to the downfall of a particularly brutal madman in central Africa and the Invisible Children at his mercy. Nor do you have to look afar for the good it can do, and in rapid fashion.
For the several hundred friends and acquaintances of 19-year-old Richard Bland, a scheduled visit by a gang of four young men from the now-cancelled MTV series The Buried Life was used to jazz up a little interest in the importance of organ donations and specifically young Richard’s need for a kidney.
The idea to engineer the mash up of social media and the visit by the Buried Life crew to Kennesaw State University north of Atlanta, sprang to life in the minds of some fraternity boys on a recent evening. One Tweet leads to another, and the one they got back from the Buried guys triggered a flood of interest. In a few hours, the cause was trending near the top of the Twitter world.
Here’s to Richard’s awaiting kidney.
Photo by Vanessa Schill | JJIE.org
Sitting behind her strikingly barren desk, with the bright, mid-winter sunlight breaking through the trees and streaming through her office windows, Martha Grace Duncan, a professor at the Emory University School of Law, in Atlanta recounts the case of nine-year-old Cameron Kocher. As she speaks her small, compact frame remains nearly motionless, betraying no emotion. But her eyes tell the story, portraying the internal mix-up of sadness, passion and nerdy intensity that she feels about the topic. Duncan may not wear her heart on her sleeve, but if you pay attention it’s not hard to find.
In March 1989, on a cold, snowy day in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, Kocher fatally shot a seven-year-old playmate with a high-powered hunting rifle. He had been playing video games with the girl at her house when she told him that she was better at the game than he. Soon, the girl went outside to ride snowmobiles with other friends and Kocher, angry that his parents wouldn’t let him join them, retrieved the rifle from his father’s gun cabinet, loaded it and pointed it out the window of his home. Then, as the girl rode with a friend on a snowmobile, Kocher shot her in the back.
Minutes later, as the girl lay dying in her living room, Kocher returned to the girl’s house telling another playmate, “If you don’t think about it, you won’t be sad.”
As Kocher’s case progressed through the courts, many took the quote, coupled with the shooting, as evidence of a cold, remorseless child. Uttering that sentence would have severe repercussions for Kocher, beginning with the question of whether he would be treated as an adult by the courts.
In 2002, Duncan published a lengthy article for the Columbia Law Review that explored how expectations of displays of remorse affect how children are treated in the juvenile justice system, particularly in adjudication and sentencing. Duncan, who also holds a doctorate in political science, applied elements of psychology, sociology and literature to several case studies in the article.
As she explains in the article, “’So Young and So Untender’: Remorselessness and the Expectations of the Law,” in Pennsylvania, the State Criminal Court is responsible for all murder cases, even those involving children. However, if the suspect is a juvenile they may petition to have their case sent to juvenile court.
Kocher’s petition to be transferred to juvenile court was denied, in part, because of his quote after the murder. After Kocher’s appeal was denied, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed the case. In its opinion, the state’s high court declared, “He appeared to show no remorse for the crime.” (Cameron Kocher eventually pleaded no contest to felony criminal homicide and, as part of a plea agreement with the local district attorney, was convicted of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter. He was placed on probation until he turned 21.)
Duncan said, when she read about Kocher’s case in The New York Times, she was startled that a child’s apparent lack of remorse would be used against him.
But in juvenile law, Duncan writes, remorse often figures prominently at a critical junction in the process called transfer—the decision whether to treat the child as an adult and send them to adult criminal court or keep them in the juvenile justice system.
Webster’s dictionary defines remorse as “a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs.” Contrition, similarly, is defined as “feeling or showing sorrow and remorse for a sin or shortcoming.”
Most adults can relate to that meaning—nobody’s perfect, after all—but at what age are we first capable of feeling remorse?
According to forensic psychiatrist Louis Kraus of the Rush Medical Center in Chicago, children do not develop a sense of remorse until they are five or six.
“Many kids have difficulty expressing a sense of remorse,” he said. “And many times that is because of trauma they have experienced.”
Kraus says the key is to understand brain development. The part of our brain that controls emotions does not finish growing until our early 20s. As a result, he says, teenagers may have a very difficult time understanding or expressing feelings of remorse.
“It is extremely important that a mental health professional examines any child that enters the court system,” Kraus said, particularly those who do not show remorse.
“Many kids would realize, if remorse plays a big role in their sentencing, to simply say how sorry they are and try to appear remorseful,” he said. “You have to ask yourself, when they don’t say that, what is going on with this kid? A comprehensive mental health assessment would help us understand.”
Kraus adds, “The reality is, a lot of these kids have difficulty with what they say and how they say it.”
Still, displays of contrition or remorse, Duncan writes, are a “legitimate argument” for leaving the child in the juvenile justice system. Children who appear to show remorse or guilt continue to be viewed as children. But children who show none of those emotions are seen as more sophisticated and mature. They may be transferred to the adult criminal justice system, a decision that could have monumental and long-lasting effects, including the possibility of life in prison without parole.
“Sometimes kids are expected to be innocents because of the romantic archetype of the child,” Duncan said.
She added, “In juvenile cases, and juvenile cases alone, sophistication is considered a bad thing. To the degree you [the child] are sophisticated, they [the juvenile justice system] are more likely to treat you as an adult.”
But Duncan contends children are not necessarily equipped to deal with feelings of guilt and remorse. They are particularly adept at using denial to bury strong feelings. The fact that they show no remorse is, in reality, a strong indicator of their immaturity.
She points to Cameron Kocher’s quote as an example.
“Even without any psychological training, one would think that could be an ambiguous comment,” she said. “For one thing, he seems to be trying to avoid feeling that.” It appeared to her, she said, as if Kocher was trying to bury the negative emotions he was feeling. It was a defense mechanism.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, juvenile courts were first created on the principle that children are inherently different than adults. Their brains are not fully developed, they are still learning and they are capable of rehabilitation.
Duncan explains children have a very difficult time showing remorse in cases of murder because of three undeveloped pieces of their development. The first is the “short sadness span,” a concept Martha Wolfenstein, the noted psychoanalyst and author, first put forth in the book, “Death of a Parent and Death of a President.” Wolfenstein said children are only able to endure painful emotions for very short periods of time.
“Just as their attention span is shorter than most adults,” Duncan said, “so their ability to remain in the painful affect of sadness or sorrow is not very long. When you start thinking about it, it’s kind of common sense.”
Once children cannot bear the feelings anymore, they use defense mechanisms to bury them. One of those defenses, and the second developmental piece Duncan discusses, is the tendency to use denial. Children are far more likely to use denial than adults, Duncan says. They push the painful feelings down and block them out because they are too much to bear, as Cameron Kocher seemingly did after fatally shooting his friend. His quote, “If you don’t think about it, you won’t be sad,” appears to indicate his use of denial to block whatever feelings he was experiencing, Duncan said.
The final piece of the puzzle is that children are not experienced enough to fully understand death. They may not think of it as permanent or irreversible and do not fully grasp what has happened.
“Researchers have not yet reached a definitive answer as to the age when most children comprehend death in these three sentences,” she writes.
When the three parts are combined, we often find a child acting cold or without compassion, maybe making jokes at inappropriate times as in the case of Gina Grant who Duncan also writes about. In 1990, when Grant was 14-years-old, she murdered her mother, a violent alcoholic who had recently threatened to kill her. That morning, Grant repeatedly bashed her mother over the head with a heavy candlestick. Later, as a police officer escorted Grant in handcuffs to the restroom she joked, “Don’t worry, I don’t have any body parts in my pocket.” When the sheriff caught wind of Grant’s joke, he concluded she was a “sociopath with no conscious.”
But for many children, the outward face of their emotion may be very different than what they feel inside. Still, society expects to see certain emotions at certain times. However, people, and children especially, are not always equipped to handle intense feelings of grief or remorse immediately. Funerals are an excellent example, Duncan says.
“I find it hard to believe that, in that hour, everyone is feeling grief,” she said. Some of the mourners may indeed feel sadness and grief at that moment, but many more will experience that at another time, in a more private way, she added.
Duncan says she can identify with the struggle to show the proper emotion. The day after her father’s death, she writes in her article, when she was still a young college student, she went to her classes at Columbia University just as she would any other day. Those who knew her and knew of her father’s death looked at her strangely because she showed no signs of grief.
“Actually, I showed no grief because I felt none, and did not for a long time,” she wrote. It was more than a year before she began to feel any strong emotions about her father’s death, and when she did they came forth like a flood.
But this was not the first time she had difficulty displaying the proper emotion.
“Growing up,” she said, “I was never quite having the right reactions, according to my family. They always wanted me to express more feeling. And at the time I was super-intellectual and super-analytical and so I wasn’t having the right reactions, according to them.”
Her experience rendered her uniquely capable of studying what happens to children caught up in the justice system who, like herself, didn’t show the “right reaction.” But for these kids, the consequences are far more serious than a few strange looks. And Duncan is very aware that had things gone horribly wrong early in her life, a judge or jury might have been taking silent note of her own emotionless countenance.
“Fortunately,” she wrote in her matter-of-fact style, “no legal ramifications flowed from my earlier failure to exhibit sadness.”
So, Duncan asks, is it fair to decide a child should be treated as an adult in the eyes of the court when they show no remorse in the days and hours after a death when they are likely incapable of displaying that emotion?
Reading about Kocher’s case started her thinking, she said. How many times has remorse played a role? With the help of a research assistant, Duncan searched for juvenile cases in which the word “remorse” showed up. The team came across more than 200. And there could be hundreds more, Duncan said, because the search didn’t include similar words such as “contrition” or “sorrow.”
More troubling still, how many times did innocent children, who could not show remorse for a crime they did not commit, have their emotions used against them?
“To what extent does the state have the right to demand that you share your interior space with the state?” Duncan asks. “Remorse is not a term of art like ‘malice aforethought’. We can’t just change the statutes, because there often aren’t any statutes.”
She added, “What’s particularly odd was that [the courts] never define remorse. They rarely explain why they got that impression [of the child].”
There is almost no way to know in how many cases remorse has been a determining factor. The internal rationale of judges and juries, Duncan says, is most often just that: internal. And in reality, it may be only one factor of many that contribute to a young person’s sentence.
Duncan is currently working on a book that will delve deeper into the question of remorse and the law. The new book will expand on what she has already written but will also tackle new areas, including how remorse is used in parole hearings.
On a day of celebration and remembrance, young visitors to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta told the JJIE what the man and his work from four decades ago mean to them and the world today. We asked: "Why do you think the work of Martin Luther King is important to us today?" These are their responses.
Photographs by Jenni Girtman.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a blossoming movement rose forth to recognize the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a federally observed holiday, culminating with more than six million people signing a petition to Congress. In 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first celebrated, three years after President Ronald Reagan signed a bill authorizing the third Monday in January as a federal holiday.
According to 2007 statistics, however, only a third of the nation’s employers give their employees the day off for the federal holiday, and it wasn’t until 2000 that every state in the union recognized the date as an official state holiday. Nor is the official terminology consistent throughout the country, with Arizona and New Hampshire celebrating the date as “Martin Luther King. Jr. Civil Rights Day” and Mississippi recognizing the day as a co-celebration of the lives of both King and Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
In the 1980s, former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms led a vocal offensive against the push to recognize King’s birthday as a federal day of observance, accusing King of being a proponent of “action-oriented Marxism.” In 1990, Arizona voters were given the option to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a state holiday, with more than three-quarters of the public voting against its observance.
The road to the recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday has been one filled with both promise and setbacks, with confrontation, ambivalence and in some cases, palpable disinterest. In some parts of the United States, the day is marked as a celebration of the human spirit and the progression of civil rights, and in others, the day is received tepidly, or perhaps even outright ignored.
Nowhere is this national dichotomy displayed more evidently than in Georgia, a state that seems incongruently divided not only on the holiday’s importance but the importance of King and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in general.
The mostly African-American Atlanta is a sharp contrast to the rest of his home state. In the predominantly white suburbs of metro-Atlanta, many communities boast of their Civil War histories, with Confederate emblems dotting cars, homes and businesses with almost the commonness of the United States flag. The capital city and its surrounding communities not only seem to be different environments, but can seem to be entirely different worlds.
Although many vestiges of the racial disjunction King experienced and fought against can still be found, the Georgia that King grew up in no longer exists. While racial hostilities and disdain can still be felt and witnessed, the institutional prejudices of the Old South seem to have dissipated entirely, with population shifts slowly turning the formerly black and white metro area into a microcosm of the world at large. If Atlanta was characterized by racism at the time of King’s assassination, then in the modern day, it’s a city instead characterized by globalization.
This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Atlanta was windy, but for January, unseasonably warm.
On Auburn Avenue, near where King grew up, the sundry funeral homes, record stores and barbershops were virtually blocked out by an array of street vendors, selling everything from Polish sausage to Philadelphia-style hot wings. A platoon of 99 Percenters marched down the potholed streets, chanting “No justice, no peace” while a congregation of young men and women clad in marching band regalia sang old hymns right next to Fire Station. No.6.
Women in birqas snapped pictures of the tombs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta, at the Freedom Hall memorial, which is stationed adjacent to Auburn Avenue. A young Hispanic child mulled tossing a penny into the reflecting pool, while his mother told him the story of the Civil Rights Movement.
Hundreds of people stood outside Ebenezer Baptist Church, waiting for their chance to snake through the queue and see the interior of the building where both King and his father once preached. Every year, a memorial service is held at the church; earlier in the day, Dr. Frederick Hayes, III, senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, led the annual gathering, telling the congregation “If we’re going to make a difference in this world, we need somebody to get agitated”[http://www.npr.org/2012/01/16/145308284/martin-luther-king-service-in-atlanta-gets-political]
Down Auburn Avenue, another massive line awaited the opportunity to enter King’s boyhood home. It’s a modest two story house, with a glossy yellow and black paint scheme and almost waist high hedges connecting the lawn to the sidewalk. Compared to the series of tiny, pastel-hued “shotgun houses” across the street, the King Birth Home appeared almost manor-like.
At the Gandhi Promenade, a young boy asked his father who the bronzed man “with the walking stick” was. An older man, presumably his father, mussed his hair, and gave him a brief introduction to the life of “The Great Soul.”
He started to read the inscription at the bottom of the statue, which is a quote from King. “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable.” He didn’t bother reading the final sentence of the plaque, “we may ignore him at our own risk.”
Blacks, Whites, Asians and Latinos all cautiously ambled down the International Civil Rights Hall of Fame. A Caucasian, college-aged girl with green hair stooped down to examine Stevie Wonder’s footprints. Several seconds later, an elderly African-American man with cottony white hair did the same, examining the walkway with the same sense of scrutiny -- and awe -- as the visitor most likely four or five decades his junior.
As the scores of people began exiting the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, one had to wonder just how much the children that attended the day’s ceremonies really know about King, and the Civil Rights Movement that occurred perhaps as much as two decades before their parents were even born.
“Everybody should follow what he’s doing,” said Amanda, a 12-year-old attendee at the event, regarding the man being honored that evening. “Everybody should do what he’s doing.”
Uhmeara, a 5-year-old at the celebration, said that King was a man that simply wanted “good stuff” for his children.
“He wanted them to have fun, and he wanted them to share,” she said. “He wanted them to be friends, and be happy, and be free and have fun every time they play.”
In the distance, a gaggle of kids -- brown, black, and white -- gleefully ran about behind some nearby shrubbery, as the fading sun painted the Atlanta sky a glowing orange.
“He really had a dream,” Uhmeara continued. “And it really happened.”
To see more of our coverage of Atlanta's celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. click here.
Photos by James Swift
A recently published study found youth curfews reduce juvenile arrests. The study, published in The American Law and Economics Review by the University of California, Berkeley, showed arrests of youths were directly impacted by curfews, dropping almost 15 percent in the curfew’s first year and 10 percent in the following years.
The report analyzed data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Unified Criminal Reporting files from 1980 to 2004 for 54 large U.S. cities (with populations more than 180,000) that enacted youth curfews between 1985 and 2002.
Arrests of young adults outside the curfew restriction also dropped suggesting fewer cross-age interactions, according to the study.
A survey in 1996, found 146 of the largest 200 U.S. cities had curfew laws on the books. Previous studies found little correlation between curfew laws and reductions in juvenile crime.
In Atlanta, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, police have often ignored a long-standing curfew ordinance. But Mayor Kasim Reed announced in May police would once again enforce the law, fining parents of repeat curfew offenders with the possibility of 60 days in jail. Parents of a child caught violating curfew will receive a warning on the first offense.
The curfew in Atlanta means teens 16 and under cannot be out of their homes without adult supervision from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from midnight to 6 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
According to the AJC, with its penalties for parents, the Atlanta curfew law is one of the toughest in the Atlanta metro area. But the study in The American Law and Economics Review says parents are often the primary curfew enforcers and “municipal curfews act as focal point in the establishment of household policies.”
Photo by Clay Duda | JJIE.org