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Why Black Buckhead Residents Say They’re Against Cityhood Push

The potential for higher taxes, racial profiling, and losing access to Atlanta amenities is on the minds of locals.

Black residents of Buckhead say they’re not sure how separating from Atlanta would address concerns some neighborhood residents have about violent crime. (Prince Williams/Getty Images)

Jimmy John moved to Buckhead with his wife about a year ago because he wanted to get away from crime in East Atlanta and enjoy a community with better amenities.

Today, as Buckhead finds itself grappling with its own perceived crime issues, John wonders how the city becoming independent will fix the problem.

“Buckhead becoming its own community has nothing to do with who comes in or comes out,” he said. “You can’t stop patrons and citizens from going to the Lenox Square mall if they’re coming into Buckhead to actually shop. …  The only thing that you could do is really raise some type of awareness and deal with the issues about the gun laws, which is kind of beyond Buckhead.”

Members of the Senate State and Local Governmental Operations committee on Monday voted to advance a pair of bills — SB 113 and SB 114 — that would allow Buckhead to form its own municipality and be responsible for its own city services. 

On Thursday, the Senate voted to throw out SB 114, which would have allowed Buckhead to incorporate as a separate city with its own charter, boundaries, and governing authority, including electing its own mayor and other city officials. Still on the table is SB 113, which would allow municipal services and select facilities to be transferred from Atlanta to a newly incorporated Buckhead City.

The Black population in Buckhead is much smaller (11%) than it is throughout the entire city of Atlanta (48%), according to U.S. Census Bureau data. John was one of several Black residents of Buckhead who expressed hesitation and concern about the latest push to make the affluent and predominantly white Atlanta neighborhood become a city unto itself.

The Buckhead City movement began more than two years ago in response to a rise in violent crime in Atlanta. 

Last year’s Buckhead City legislation failed to make it out of committee after former Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and leaders of Atlanta’s business community sided with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens in opposition.

In June, Dickens opened a police precinct in Buckhead to address concerns about crime, in addition to increasing the number of officers across the city.

None of the state Senate sponsors of this year’s Buckhead City bills represent districts that include Atlanta.

Buckhead City Committee CEO Bill White and other supporters of the neighborhood’s secession movement argue that Atlanta officials still haven’t done enough to combat rising crime.

Forming their own municipality, White has argued, would allow Buckhead residents to better manage their own affairs and tax dollars, in part, by having its own police force and establishing a K-12 school system.

Opponents of the Buckhead City movement include state Sens. Sonya Halpern and Jason Esteves, an Afro-Latino lawmaker whose district includes part of Buckhead. In a tweet, Esteves called the latest push, “an ugly, half-baked pie with terrible consequences,” urging his colleagues to reject the legislation.

Buckhead resident Raven Edwards, 23, has lived in the neighborhood for just over a year. She raised concerns about her taxes going up to fund a new municipal government and losing access to Atlanta services if Buckhead separated from the rest of the city.

“Everything could change,” she said. “They might take away MARTA. There’s no telling what might happen.”

Edwards and 33-year-old Jazmine Parker work at Lenox Square in Buckhead. Parker acknowledged the neighborhood and the mall have had problems with violent crime in recent years, but she questioned how Buckhead separating from Atlanta would help.

“I don’t think the solution to crime is just more police,” Parker said. “I live literally around the corner. There’s a police precinct on my block.”

John also raised concerns about Black folks in Atlanta being racially profiled by officers in Buckhead if the neighborhood formed its own police force. “[Police] can literally go back to Jim Crow days and say, ‘Hey man, get out of here,’” he said.

Buckhead resident Anthony Jackson worries crime in Atlanta could increase if the city police department loses Buckhead’s substantial share of tax revenue. Jackson said he’s already seen a higher presence of police and municipal services in the neighborhood since moving there earlier this year.

“I feel like Atlanta does a good job of evenly spending the taxpayers’ money,” Jackson said, noting that, in addition to more police patrols, he’s seen more street sweepers since moving to the neighborhood. “There’s no real progression for either Atlanta or Buckhead by allowing Buckhead to become its own city.”

Earlier this week, Gov. Brian Kemp’s office challenged the feasibility of the latest Buckhead City bills. 

David Dove, an executive attorney for the Kemp administration, raised concerns in a memo to Georgia Senate floor leaders Bo Hatchett and Mike Hodges that the Buckhead cityhood effort could cause major problems down the road, even saying the bills could violate the state constitution.

“Without thoughtful consideration, these bills, together, may retailor the cloth of governance for Georgia municipalities in ways that will ripple into a future of unforeseen outcomes,” Dove wrote.

It remains unclear whether Republican leaders in the General Assembly, including Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who was a proponent of Buckhead City last year before winning election in November, will look to press the issue. The concerns raised by Kemp’s office could delay a Senate floor vote on the Buckhead city bills in the short term.

This story has been updated.