Atlanta Committee Rejects Expansion of Drug Free Commercial Zones
(APN) ATLANTA — The Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee of the Atlanta City Council, on Tuesday, August 13, 2019, voted to file, or kill, Ordinance 18-O-1765, an ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Cleta Winslow (District 4) that would expand the geographic boundaries of the Atlanta’s Drug-Free Commercial Zones.
Councilwoman Winslow wanted to add new a Drug-Free Commercial Zone in her district. Councilman Amir Farokhi (District 2) also wanted to add the Boulevard area near Ponce City Market.
Drug Free Commercial Zones are zones where there are heightened penalties for drug crimes.
Atlanta’s ordinance also permits banishment of drug offenders from returning to the designated area.
However, Chairman Dustin Hillis (District 9), and Councilmembers Andre Dickens (Post 3-at-large), Marci Overstreet (District 11), and Antonio Brown (District 3) raised concerns.
The vote was five in favor of filing, two opposed. In favor, were Hillis, Dickens, Overstreet, Brown, and Andrea Boone (District 10).
Opposed to filing, or in support of the zones, were Howard Shook (District 7) and JP Matzigkeit (District 8), both representing Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhoods.
Cities in Georgia are allowed to create these zones under a state enabling law (O.C.G.A. 16-13-32.6), but the cities must draw the maps and submit them to the Legislature for approval.
Atlanta first adopted a Drug Free Commercial Zone in 1998.
A report by the Drug Policy Institute says that drug-free zones have resulted in discriminatory harmful impacts on people of color, and says that these zones raise numerous Equal Protection and Due Process issues.
APN’s News Editor, the present writer, distributed the report to the Committee in remarks earlier in the afternoon.
“I’m really not feeling real good about this legislation,” Councilwoman Overstreet said to Councilwoman Winslow.
“I think that we will be unfairly targeting our areas–especially areas that I grew up in, where I live now… to be singled out for so many reasons,” Overstreet said.
“I think it puts them [Atlanta Police] on notice in a different way, and that our youth are at risk of being treated differently because of where they live,” she said.
“I think it’s not the direction we should go as a city. I don’t feel good about it at all.”
“I think the areas that need help should get them regardless of us saying this is where our drug areas are. Let’s tackle those, but let’s not put legislation that targets these people,” Overstreet said.
Overstreet also raised the concern that property insurance rates might be raised in areas that are legislatively deemed to be high-drug areas that qualify as drug-free zones.
“Just because a group is targeted that doesn’t mean it’s the only place where the activity happens,” she said.
“I’m not supportive of the legislation because it targets people of color and for many other reasons,” Chairman Hillis said.
“I’m in the health-care industry and you keep bringing up drug issues. There are multiple ways to handle drug issues other than sentencing people to twenty years in prison or, on the second offense, forty years in prison, or banishing them,” Hillis said.
“They need to go to treatment centers to help handle that. They don’t need to go to jail or prison for twenty or forty years,” he said.
“We have a police force, we have narcotics units, we have a lot of people that are looking at how to solve the issues of crime and drugs, and we have a budget dedicated to that. And if we want to do more, we need to increase our budget or increase our efforts,” Councilman Dickens said.
“Putting a label like ‘Drug Free Zone’ on something doesn’t make it a drug free zone,” Dickens said.
“And we can’t say out of two sides of our mouths, we have these huge drug problems, but this drug-free zone is effective,” Dickens said.
“Secondly, there are no Zone Two areas mentioned on here. Clearly, there are some specifics about whoever designs this, says, well, this is a drug free zone,” Dickens said.
Zone Two is comprised of Atlanta’s nearly all-White neighborhoods, including Buckhead, Lenox Park, Piedmont Heights, and Lindridge-Martin Manor; and the gentrifying areas of West Midtown.
“Meanwhile, there are people who do drugs in Zone Two, but they do them in their house, or in their basement, or in their backyard under a protected landscape,” he said.
“In the past, this might have seemed like a good idea. Now you have evidence that this has targeted certain populations,” he said.
“We just need to do our jobs better. The State comes up with lots of laws to put us in boxes and bins,” he said.
“In addition just to the fact that it has not been effective, the other aspect I have a problem with is the fixed mandatory minimum penalty enhancement that contributes to the additional sentencing of these individuals that are found in violation in these drug free zones, where there are mandatory sentences that can be added to their already existing sentencing,” Councilman Brown said.
“When these areas are identified, a lot of times they are predominantly African-American communities. And we find ourselves criminalizing folks in areas of extreme poverty that are relying on measures to survive. And for that reason I’m going to put forward a motion to file your legislation,” Brown said.
The ordinance will come at the Full Council Meeting on Monday, August 19, 2019.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)