AHA Security Forces Activist out of Tenants’ Meeting
(APN) ATLANTA — Activist Terence Courtney, director of Atlanta Jobs with Justice, was forcibly escorted out of a residents’ association meeting by Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) security on Wednesday, August 22, 2007, he and two resident leaders told Atlanta Progressive News.
“We were expecting a normal meeting,” Eleanor Rayton, President of the Palmer House highrise resident association, said.
“Then, when Mr. Terence got there, all these security and people from [AHA] Mr. [Barney] Simms’s office was there to greet me. They escorted him off the property. Mr. Mitchell said that was Barney Simms’s meeting and he proceeded,” Rayton said.
“When Terence was down front prepared to start speaking, Simms walks in, with Mr. Mitchell and Charles Walker and one other. They proceeded to tell him he couldn’t say what he was going to say. They were confronting him. They told him he had to leave,” Cornelia Chapman, Secretary of the Palmer House resident association, said.
“They don’t want someone to put the clean glass of water up next to a dirty glass of water,” Shirley Hightower, President of Bowen Homes and Treasurer of Jurisdiction-Wide Resident Advisory Board (RAB), who heard about the incident, told Atlanta Progressive News.
“They must be trying to hide something from the residents. Why didn’t they let Terence speak?” Rayton said.
“This all happened in front of a room of residents, as if we don’t know what we’re doing,” Chapman said.
“There appeared to be sheriffs there and dozens of suits. Simms and I got into a discussion of Democracy and people having the right to speak, and that fell on deaf ears. Residents at the Palmer House wanted to hear an alternate side to the story of the housing question,” Courtney said.
“We helped organize a meeting to hold that discussion. On the day of that meeting, the AHA who were numbered in really at least a dozen or more was along with at least what I can remember to be about three sheriffs or officers. It wasn’t blue uniform officers, they were brown. There were at least three plainclothes officers,” Courtney said.
“As we were beginning the meeting, they approached me about how the meeting came about. They approached me about a flyer that I had managed to get distributed and they expressed concern about me conducting the meeting. They also asked me why I didn’t go through the Administration of the Housing Authority,” Courtney recalled.
“My reply is that I had spoken to residents and it was my opinion that the residents get to determine what they do and do not hear, and Democracy demands that I pay attention to that. It’s the residents that really make the Housing Authority what it was,” Courtney said.
“That reply seemed to take them aback. We went back and forth on that. It was at that point that Barney threatened to cancel the meeting. He and I argued and his right to do so. He claimed that what Palmer House represented was private property. I disagreed, since this was public property, being public housing, and since the residents were interested in what I had to say, that I had every right to have a discussion with people,” Courtney said.
That was then he was surrounded and escorted off the property, he said.
Rayton and Courtney told APN that some residents came with Courtney off the property and held their tenant association under a nearby tree.
“One, they do not allow the people to have the opportunity to talk amongst themselves about what’s going on. What the Housing Authority is trying to do is maintain very tight control over information and what the people get to hear,” Courtney said.
“They don’t really respect the will of their residents. They enjoy too much control of the people. Barney Simms should not individually have the right to throw me out of a meeting that residents and myself organized,” Courtney said.
“The other thing is they’re fearful. They’re afraid of alternative points of view, they’re afraid the residents will come to see this whole program of moving them out of public is all about giving the land over to the developers for the enrichment of the rich White and Black elite,” Courtney said.
“From what people saw from my removal and what went down, some folks became suspicious of the AHA program. Even though I haven’t spoken to all the residents that were there, overwhelmingly they said they thought this plan was really about giving developers what they want,” Courtney said.
“It was outrageous for him to say I can cancel this meeting if I want to. From his point of view, he might actually believe that,” Courtney said.
Two individuals familiar with the matter expressed concern about the resident leaders’ names being used in this article because they feel AHA, particularly Barney Simms, has intimidated the senior residents. Despite this concern, the resident leaders told APN they wanted their names to be used.
Atlanta Progressive News is still waiting on responses to several questions posed to Atlanta Housing Authority over three weeks ago.
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Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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