Gammon Street Closure Escalates Racial Tensions in Gentrifying South Atlanta
(APN) ATLANTA — For over one month, Gammon Street, a public road in South Atlanta, has been closed off under questionable legal and political circumstances.
The closure appears to have been prompted by the complaints of White residents, who do not care for Carver High School students traversing through their neighborhoods.
One woman, Kristi Wood, has led a multi-pronged campaign to close the students’ direct access point from Carver High to Gammon Street.
Project South and the Georgia Citizens Coalition on Hunger–two organizations with offices on Gammon–say the closure has interfered with their work and has served to further criminalize young people of color at nearby Carver High School.
“The street closure… impacts multiple organizations’ staff and members’ entry and exit to the building, our mail delivery, our youth programs in the South Atlanta park, and visitors’ access to our building and offices,” Stephanie Guilloud and Emery Wright, Project South co-directors, wrote in a letter to Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington (District 5) on May 11, 2015.
“We are concerned there is an attempt to criminalize parts of the community that access the community services and programs… as well as the young people,” they wrote, adding that police presence has “tripled in recent weeks.”
Gammon is a small neighborhood street whose east end starts at Jonesboro Rd., and whose west end runs into the driveway encircling Carver High School. Gammon includes what appears to be a campus road.
There is a gate at the point where Gammon Street and Carver High’s driveway meet. Until recently, that gate was always open.
“Our clients come through that gate to have their basic necessities met,” Carolyn Pittman, Director of the Coalition on Hunger, told Atlanta Progressive News.
The Coalition on Hunger provides emergency food, clothing, and other supplies to people in need. It also holds community meetings and helps direct people to other needed services
“Now they got to walk all the way around. We have a lot of people dealing with health issues, so by having that gate closed, they are not able to access us,” Pittman said.
Gammon is a well-traversed route. It is the quickest way to get from a MARTA bus stop on Jonesboro to Project South and the Coalition on Hunger.
It is also the most direct route home for many Carver students, as well as a thoroughfare for students coming and going to and from campus throughout the day.
Recently, that has drawn the ire of some Gammon St. homeowners.
The most vocal among them is Kristi Wood, Secretary of NPU-Y. In recent months, Wood has photographed and videod students on multiple occasions, posting the images to her Facebook page.
Wood, who is White, regularly refers to Black, male students as “gang members” in her posts and on different occasions, she wrote that she had sent the photos to police, called for a police car to patrol the street when school lets out, and used the hashtag #closethegates.
[Searching this hashtag does not turn up any other South Atlanta residents using it to call for the Gammon gate to be closed; the hashtag is most consistently used by xenophobic Britons who want to end immigration.]
In a written statement to APN, Wood said that truancy has been “an escalating problem over the past few years.”
On May 07, 2015 Major Jeffrey Glazier, Atlanta Police Department (APD) Zone 3 Commander, made the unilateral decision to not only close the gate, but to chain it with a padlock.
Glazier then erected an orange plastic barricade and placed a sign reading “Carver Entrance Closed. Use McDonough Blvd. Entrance,” halfway down Gammon.
“That’s what young people of color have always been faced with. Locks and chains,” Ash Helm-Hernandez, youth coordinator at Project South, told APN.
Some of the students photographed by Wood are members of Project South’s Youth Community Action Program (YCAP).
“They’re dehumanizing our young people. They are being heavily criminalized. There are young people who skip school all over this nation and they don’t need to be handcuffed,” Helm-Hernandez said.
In an email forwarded to APN by an APD spokesperson, Glazier said the road closure was his response to an incident in which two stolen cars were driven through the gate and a gun was discharged.
APN requested a copy of a police report regarding the alleged incident, but was told that because no injuries occurred, no report was filed.
“This is only a short-term solution until the end of the school year. After that we will be sitting down with all stakeholders to come up with a permanent solution,” Glazier wrote.
But in an email exchange between Glazier and Wood, obtained by APN, Glazier wrote, “My goal is to keep this entrance and exit closed all summer and throughout the next school year.”
Several people were copied on the emails between Wood and Glazier, including the principal of Carver’s School of Health Sciences and Research; Atlanta City Councilwoman Carla Smith (District 1); Zone 2 Fulton County Prosecutor Claire Farley; State Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), an announced candidate for Mayor of Atlanta; Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education Member Leslie Grant (District 1); South Atlanta Civic League president Josh Noblitt, an announced candidate for Kaiser’s House seat and a minister; and NPU-Y Chairperson Russell Hopson.
Councilwoman Smith told APN that several of those individuals, including Wood, were part of a “truancy task force” that met several times at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
Together they came up with a document titled “Truancy Comprehensive Response Procedures,” endorsed by Atlanta Public Schools (APS), which instructs members of the public on what to do if they see a school-aged child in the community during schools hours: Dial 911.
That is the only instruction offered in the document.
The rest of the two pages includes a chart outlining the different possible outcomes (from “Student returned to school” to “Student transported to detention”); bulleted lists detailing APD’s and APS’s approach to truancy; and relevant Georgia and City of Atlanta laws.
At the time of writing, an APS spokesperson had not responded to the following question: In light of the growing national awareness of the ways in which youth of color are systematically criminalized, why does APS see fit to instruct the public to dial 911 when they see someone who may be a truant student?
“They only see the young people as truant. They only name them as truant. They don’t give them the dignity of maybe they don’t want to be in school and what can we do to change that? They don’t want to talk about what’s making them want to leave school. Teenage pregnancy, learning disabilities, young people are facing all kinds of issues in the home,” Helm-Hernandez said.
Wood had a hand in crafting the truancy task force document.
In her written statement she expressed concern for the safety and well-being of students and said she had the support of “more than a dozen” neighbors.
“While closing the gate only addresses certain aspects of a much larger systemic problem, it has been the most sought after solution we have come to,” she wrote.
Wood’s concern may also extend to South Atlanta’s image and whether outsiders perceive it as a good place to live.
According to Fulton County property records, Wood and her husband, who moved to their home on Gammon St. in 2006, bought three more houses in the neighborhood during the first two years of the Great Recession, when foreclosures racked Atlanta’s low-income communities. Wood and her husband were able to buy homes for under 20,000 dollars that only a few years before had sold for over 200,000.
Now property values are rising again, and South Atlanta is among the neighborhoods considered “up-and-coming.”
Wood did not respond to APN’s question as to whether they are renting, planning to sell the houses, or using them for some other purpose.
In South Atlanta, gentrification is not an accident.
A Christian organization called FCS Urban Ministries has focused on the neighborhood in its mission to “reweave the fabric of urban community” by “attracting ‘strategic neighbors,’” to come live there, according to its website.
Founded by Bob Lupton, author of several books and essays, including “Gentrification with Justice,” and “Return Flight,” (as in the opposite of White Flight), one of FCS’s offshoots is a program called Charis Community Housing, which buys, rents, and sells houses in South Atlanta. [no connection to the Charis feminist bookstore or foundation]
According to property records, Charis Community Housing, Charis Financial Group, and Charis South Atlanta LLC together own 32 properties in the area, one of which is on Gammon.
Lupton’s son, who owns a building company and sits on the board of Charis Community Housing, also lives on Gammon.
Their mission, according to the website, is to “develop wholesome, viable, self-sustaining mixed-income neighborhoods where God’s peace is present and where lives and communities are transformed.”
FCS also operates Community Grounds Cafe and the South Atlanta Bike Shop.
As well-meaning as all of this may be, one consequence of wealthier, White people moving to South Atlanta has been heightened racial tensions.
“Having fun and being rambunctious is being equated with criminal activity,” Helm-Hernandez says of the way some White neighbors perceive Black youth.
Helm-Hernandez doesn’t downplay real violence that has happened.
A fight involving a large number of Carver students, in which the victim was targeted because of their sexual orientation, recently drew media attention.
“Instead of coming up with more creative solutions, they chain the fence and that’s creating so many underlying tensions that it’s going to explode if we don’t get the situation handled,” Helm-Hernandez explained.
Noblitt agrees it feels like there is an “adversarial” relationship between some neighbors and youth in the community.
“These are students, they are not our enemies. The Civic League is concerned about creating positive relationships with the students,” he said.
Noblitt has proposed to hire a mediator to work out a solution between people who want Gammon St. to remain closed and those who want it open.
Councilwoman Smith said that police have the authority to close roads when there is an emergency.
When asked whether there has been an ongoing emergency on Gammon for more than a month, Smith said she was unaware that the gate had remained closed that entire time.
APD spokesperson Greg Lyon also provided factual assertions that differed from reality. On two occasions, he indicated that Glazier and his captain had said that the gate was no longer closed. Each time, Atlanta Progressive News visited Gammon and saw that, in fact, it was still closed.
As of this writing, Lyon had not responded to a request for the section, if it exists, of APD’s policy manual that deals with road closure protocol.
“We need to have some solution and then go after that solution. Whether it be to leave the street completely open or to close it completely or somewhere between,” Smith told APN.
She brought up a legal process called “street abandonment” that is used to permanently close a street.
But it’s clear to those who rely on Gammon to access food, school, their homes, the park, and other essential services, that anyone who pushes for permanent closure is abandoning a lot more than a street.
This residents of this street have actually been threatened by teenagers claiming to be gang members, but that is not mentioned in this inflammatory, one-sided, speculative article.
There are certainly plenty of youths under 18 who have been convicted of major crimes while participating in street gang activity. The APD has identified 166 active street gangs in Atlanta.
Here is some real reporting on this issue:
and there are plenty more youths who have not committed serious/violent crimes but are labeled as such because of how they dress, they hang out in a large group, have black skin, etc.
White affluent kids skip school too but you don’t see it because they have cars, basements, and money to go to movies while skipping. No one is calling the police on them.
Carla Smith being unaware is not new, sadly.
I have seen numerous youtube.com videos of kids fighting on that street people need to get off that gentrification B.S. the street should be closed . Who cares if someone purchases a home for $20k and then sells it for a profit when did that become a crime this is America which is built on capitalism. The only people who complain about making money or count other people’s pocket are those who are broke. The End!!!!
Typical…irrational hysteria of white folks.
Sarah seems to think we cannot click links. One of her links does not even go to an article and the second one absolutely does not allege that there are 166 street gangs in Atlanta.
And closing down a public street financed by tax-payers to a group based primarily on race is one of the most basic, indisputable forms of racism.
Have we lost our minds? Is there something in the water? Why is America rushing hard and fast away from justice and human compassion? Why are we sprinting toward fascism and hate?
Oh Hi Lunaville, I must be making this up, right?
Open your eyes, there is a real threat to the youth of this area, and pretending that it doesn’t exist won’t help.
So…Let me fix that link for you… here’s the short version (the long one became garbled due to the coding of this website’s text box)
AJC Article on Gangs in DeKalb http://bit.ly/1IAI3ey
and the “166” number is from a flyer that the APD Gang Unit is co-hosting this Saturday
Here’s the flyer http://bit.ly/1TORIGZ
Here’s some info about the Pittsburgh Jack Boys, who operate in Lakewood area
2010 Virginia Highlands murder of Charles Boyer, rape of woman during GP home invasion.
In a short time period from Oct. 19, 2010 through Nov. 27, 2010—pjB gang terrorized residents in Grant Park, Ormewood Park, Lakewood Heights, Old Fourth Ward, Benteen Park and Virginia-Highland with 17 armed robberies and six carjackings in addition to the murder and rape. The Pittsburgh Jack Boys gang has been operating in Atlanta for numerous years. Some members, like Tamario Wise, are serving life sentences for violent crimes that include murder, rape and armed robbery. According to court documents Wise should have been in jail at the time of Boyer’s murder. Wise went to prison at age 15 for aggravated assault. He was released early in August of 2010 days before the crime spree that would ultimately take Boyer’s life began. The parole board issued an arrest warrant for Wise at the time, after he ditched his ankle monitor.
And the 30-Deep gang who recruit kids as young as 11 and 12, arrested by the time they are 13 and 14
includes factions from Mechanicsville and surrounding neighborhoods like DRC, “Da Robbing Crew,” or YRC, “Young Robbing Crew.”
murder at The Standard restaurant, “blue jean bandits” retail smash-n-grabs, and um, probably shot a key prosecution witness right before trial. linked to burglaries at Discover Mills in Gwinnett County, in Midtown and in Buckhead. 30 Deep uses the money it gets from robberies and the proceeds from selling what they steal to buy narcotics to sell for even more money.
If you were so well informed of the criminal violence, why were you so ready to move to the area? Financial gain is a huge motivator for many, but the focus in this area should be on recognizing the social issues that contribute to poverty and the issues surrounding poverty. Bring solutions, and forget profit. Oh, wait that won’t add to the bottom line of your investments at the cost of others will it Sarah Kinney?
DC, you seem like an apologist for criminals. Sarah laid out an extensive case for the street closure with multiple examples of out of control crime and mayhem being committed by young criminals who should be in school. I have news for you, poverty isn’t a reason to kill and rape innocent people. It also isn’t a reason to terrorize your immediate community, or the surrounding communities. You are absolutely right about finding solutions for these kids living in poverty and dealing with the challenges in South Atlanta. The kids who are not criminals need our help and enough isn’t being done for them. The rapists and murderers have no hope and need to be locked up or even executed for the crimes they commit. You have to understand, this is a public safety issue, not racism. And Lunavilla talking ’bout “where is the justice and human compassion???” Let me ask you this, where is the human compassion of the gang member who stuck a gun in someone’s face and pulled the trigger because the wanted to rob them? Also, where is the justice for that same person? Shouldn’t they be sitting on death row right about now? In closing, the article is completely slanted and actually excuses the criminal behavior taking place in the area. Irresponsible piece that will just lead to more hatred and violence.
I lived on gammon Ave for over 20 years. I have used that gate since before the park was redone, before carver campus was redone, before there was even one white person who wasnt stopping in South Atlanta for drugs or prostitutes. Now we have white neighbors who own more houses in that neighborhood than there are black residents who own theirs. I grew up there and still visit my parents over there. Still haven’t seen any gangs. Used to watch these same students going to and from school my biggest problem was littering and an ice cream truck that parked in front of my folks house after school hours. That school has been there for well over 25 years. It’s a historic black neighborhood. The first campus for Gammon theological seminary and the au center. That was close to 100 years ago. 9 years in our neighborhood and you have the right to judge the people who lived there before you and you are not racist, please. (Šideways look)
Divinjustice, thanks for letting me know I’m a racist. Not sure how a post about crime automatically portrays me as racist, but hey – we are living in different times. Ignorant times. It’s obvious that you’re not a fan of white people moving into the neighborhood. I’ll let the forum decide what that makes you. Apart from the rhetoric, the facts are these – in the past month and a half 3 residential burglaries have occurred on gammon street alone. I’m glad you haven’t seen anything, but this is reality. I would imagine that’s of some concern to your folks, and anyone else who lives on the street. Residents want something done, on gammon and many other neighborhoods in Atlanta. I dont live in South Atlanta, but I am concerned about crime in zones 3, 5, and 6.