M&C Capture 2/16/21

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission met virtually for its Tuesday special called session and agenda setting session.

After more than a year of community efforts for Athens-Clarke County and the University of Georgia to recognize their roles in the destruction of the Linnentown community and provide reparations, the ACC Mayor and Commission approved the Linnentown Resolution, which provides a pathway for the county to provide redress.

Linnentown was a community that housed about 50 Black families and was torn down during urban renewal in the 1960s to make way for UGA’s high-rise dorms — Russell, Brumby and Creswell halls.

The resolution states that the county’s Justice and Memory Committee will determine the amount of intergenerational wealth lost to urban renewal, and make yearly recommendations to the mayor and commission for redress projects including affordable housing, economic development and public transportation. It also states that the county will work with the University System of Georgia to recognize Linnentown’s legacy and install a “wall of recognition.”

In addition, the county will seek a partnership with the USG to create a Center on Slavery, Jim Crow and the Future of Athens Black Communities.

Resolution resolved

The commission unanimously passed the resolution during a Tuesday special called session. Earlier this month, Mayor Kelly Girtz signed a proclamation officially apologizing for the county’s role in destroying Linnentown.

The resolution’s approval has been a long time in the making. In February 2020, protesters packed the mayor and commission chamber during a meeting with signs calling for redress. Before that, The Linnentown Project, the organization that wrote the initial draft of the resolution, protested on the steps of City Hall demanding the commission add the resolution to its voting agenda.

District 1 Commissioner Patrick Davenport supported the resolution, but said it felt like an insult to him.

“I don’t want redress, I don’t want reparations, because what’s the point? What’s the point when tomorrow we’re going to have someone who’s going to put a knee to my neck?” Davenport said.

He said he appreciates white people’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement, but the best thing they can do for him is to have conversations about racism with bigoted people.

“Tell them that there’s nothing wrong if I’m in South Georgia, looking at an empty house. You should not be the judge, jury and executioner and shoot me just because you think I’m robbing somebody,” Davenport said. “Black people, for the love of God, we have to cut the white man’s puppet strings. We all know who wrote this resolution, we all know who’s behind it.”

District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards expressed regret for not supporting the resolution in the past. In January 2020, Edwards said he disagreed with language in the resolution.

“I was wrong,” Edwards said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I took issue with the term ‘terrorism...’ in fact, it was an act of terrorism to forcibly remove these people from their homes … It was an act of white supremacy.”

District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker was enthusiastic about the resolution, but said the process by which the resolution came to be is rooted in white supremacy.

“A majority-white body, majority-white attorneys and a majority-white state legislature get to determine what redress and recognition look like for the community that was harmed by white supremacy,” Parker said. “This is just a beginning, and a beginning that I am very, very excited about and grateful for.”

Girtz said Linnentown is the first community destroyed by urban renewal to get a specific resolution, but it won’t be the last. He said he received public comments calling language in the resolution “sharp,” but said people concerned with sharp language should look at remarks on records from the urban renewal period and during UGA’s desegregation.

“If you think anything in this resolution is sharp, it’s nothing compared to the traumatic comments that were made in a lot of those films,” Girtz said.

Axon Taser and body cam contract extended

The commission also passed an extension of the county’s contract with Axon, which produces body cameras and Tasers used by the ACC Police Department. The extension will allow for ACCPD to receive new Taser models and replace current body cameras as needed.

The contract extension was originally voted on during the commission’s Dec. 1 meeting, when commissioners decided to table it for further discussion. The original legislation would have approved a full five-year contract extension, but the version passed on Tuesday approves five one-year renewable extensions, which will allow the commission to stop renewing the contract before the five years is up if it chooses, County Attorney Judd Drake said.

The contract extension passed 8-2, with Parker and District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle voting against it. Houle said they were hesitant to spend the money on Tasers the police department may not need.

“I don’t believe this is the best way to spend a quarter of a million dollars a year,” Houle said. “We still have Tasers that our police department can be equipped with that are tested on a regular basis and can be replaced on an ad hoc basis if need be.”

District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton said the safety of officers should be the top priority.

“There is no dollar amount on a life, no matter whose it is,” Thornton said. “I think that these officers need to have not only the Tasers, but they need to have our support as commissioners.”