Just a few days after Beth Weaver moved from the suburbs to a new townhouse in this city's wealthy Buckhead district, she began to worry that she had made a mistake.
One night she sat on her balcony and watched a thief rifle through her BMW. A few weeks later, someone broke into her family’s truck. In November, there was a shootout on her narrow street lined with townhouses that start at a half-million dollars.
“They would come through here on a bicycle and just start picking up packages and right out of your garage in broad daylight,” said Weaver, who lives in the area’s Broadview Place neighborhood.
“You did not feel safe,” said Weaver, whose neighbors have installed a network of surveillance cameras and are pushing city leaders to allow them to gate their development.
That feeling of not being safe has persisted as crime in the city has skyrocketed — the result, some say, of the pandemic and the civil unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd last summer. Some residents and business leaders in this affluent, predominantly White enclave north of downtown think they have a solution: They want Buckhead to become its own municipality.
They contend that with control of their tax dollars, they would be able to better protect themselves than the city has as violent crime — including shootings, car jackings and assaults — surges.
The group, the Buckhead Exploratory Committee, has asked the state for permission to allow its residents to vote on the issue and has raised more than $600,000. The effort, backed by some Georgia Republicans, represents the latest example of a burgeoning “cityhood movement” in the South as municipalities nationwide struggle to understand why crime continues to rise even as life begins to return to normal post-pandemic.
“The mayor and the city council have been making bad decisions, so at what point does anyone with a brain say, ‘Enough’?” said Bill White, chairman of the Buckhead Exploratory Committee. “If crime is out of control, and you are doing nothing about it, you are finished as a city.”
'City in crisis'
Home to about 86,000 residents, Buckhead is anchored by a high-end shopping mall surrounded by 40-story office and luxury condominium towers that give it the feel of an urban playground for the rich. The area’s main commercial district is surrounded by smaller residential developments and strip malls in neighborhoods of tree-lined streets that include some of Atlanta’s most elaborate mansions.
Atlanta annexed the areas that include Buckhead more than 60 years ago as the city was gobbling up territory to better position itself as a powerhouse American city. For decades, Buckhead was one of its safest communities, but today it has become a symbol of Atlanta’s dramatic crime wave, which many describe as “a crisis” that threatens to upend decades of economic progress.
The most populated city in the Deep South, Atlanta has had 54 homicides and more than 250 shootings so far this year, according to its police department. Homicides are up 59 percent compared with the first five months of 2020, a year that itself ended with a two-decade high of 157 killings. Rape, assault and vehicle thefts have increased by more than 30 percent compared with last year.
The crime spike has become a major political hurdle for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), who in May shocked the city by announcing she would not seek a second term. Now, Bottoms's policies are dominating the debate over whether she can keep modern-day Atlanta intact by slowing down the efforts of the Buckhead Exploratory Committee