Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Demagogue Donald—“He Should Just Stop Talking” June 2, 2020
Most of us want to stop constantly thinking and brooding about the horrible coronavirus pandemic that has cost more than 104,000 U.S. lives, thrown at least 40 million Americans out of work, and forced many of us to stay in our homes for weeks (See Collinson, cnn.com, 6/02/20). However, as the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for. You may just get it.” What could possibly take our attention away from COVID-19? Revisiting America’s “Original Sin,” our tortured history of race relations, a matter which has tormented us since the first boatload of African slaves reached the shores of the then British colony of Virginia in 1619. As those of us living in a reality-based universe know, on 5/25/2020, African American George Floyd (46), a resident of the Minneapolis, Minnesota area since 2014, died after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee to the right side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. According to a criminal complaint later filed against Chauvin, 2 minutes and 53 seconds of that total time Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck occurred after he had become unresponsive. Three other Minneapolis officers, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas K. Lane also participated in Floyd’s arrest. Kueng held Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs, and Thao looked on standing nearby (Minnesota.cbslocal.com, 5/26/20, Murphy, E., Silverman, H. cnn.com, 5/29/20, Mannix, A., startribune.com, 5/26/20, nytimes.com, AP, 5/29/20).
The incident was recorded on the smartphones of several bystanders and circulated on social media (Hauser, C., 5/26/20, nytimes.com). The arrest was made after Floyd allegedly attempted to use a $20 bill in a deli which an employee suspected was counterfeit. Police claimed Floyd “physically resisted arrest” after being ordered to get out of his car, an account contradicted by the release of a bystander’s video recording (cbsnews.com, 5/26/20, Dakss, B., minnesota.cbslocal.com, 5/26/20). While being held down by the police, video recording by a witness showed the arrested Floyd repeating, “Please,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Don’t kill me (Hauser, nytimes.com, 5/26/20).” All four officers were fired the next day, but it took four days after Floyd’s death, 5/29/2020, for Chauvin to be charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other officers have yet to be charged (FOX 9, 5/26/20, WCCO News 4 Minnesota, 5/29/20, AP, 5/29/20).
After Floyd’s death, demonstrations and protests were initially peaceful in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on 5/26/2020, but later that day became violent. Windows were smashed at a police precinct, stores were set on fire, and many stores were looted and damaged (AP, 5/28/20). Some demonstrators skirmished with police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets (cnn.com, 5/28/20, Jiminez, Chavez, & Hanna, 5/28/20, foxnews.com, DeMarche, 5/28/20). Demonstrations and protests, including attacks on people and property developed in over 100 cities in the U.S. and internationally, including in NY, D.C., Los Angeles, CA, Santa Monica, CA, Atlanta, GA, and in England (See cnn.com).
As usual, Demagogue Donald’s remarks and tweets far from helped the situation. While other presidents would seek to cool the tinderbox moment we are facing, our so-called “Leader” plays with “matches,” in the words of NY Times writer Peter Baker (5/30/20). “Matches,” Mr. Baker? IMHO, the “leader” who spoke of taming “American carnage” at his inauguration has taken a blowtorch to the real carnage emerging under his watch with his rhetoric. And why expect less from Donald who called the 2017 Charlottesville Nazis, KKKers, and related white supremacists “very fine people?” Donald has made no appeal for calm after Floyd’s death. In 5/30/2020 tweets, he attacked liberal governors and mayors for not getting much tougher and threatened to use the “unlimited power of the military and many arrests.” While cowering in the White House, he tweeted about greeting protestors who breeched the White House fence with Secret Servicemen using “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen (nytimes.com, Baker, 5/30/20).” Yes, “the most vicious dogs,” just as Birmingham, AL racist public safety commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor had set on black demonstrators in 5/1963. And this is not the first time Trump seemed to admire words and actions right out of “Bull” Connor’s playbook. The very day before, on 5/29/2020, Trump, in a tweet that Twitter flagged for “glorifying violence,” stated, “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts (@realDonald Trump, 7:53 AM, May 29, 2020).” Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” comment was a phrase used by Miami police Chief Walter Headley who, according to Howard University Professor Clarence Lusane, had a long history of bigotry against the black community. Like Trump, Headley called blacks “thugs.” In 1967, Headley stated that the reason Miami had not had any riots up to that point was because he had sent out the message that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Headley also proclaimed, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.” A few months later, despite Headley’s incendiary rhetoric, blacks did riot in Miami. According to Professor Lusane, Headley may have borrowed this “looting starts, shooting starts” phrase from “Bull” Connor. And segregationist candidate Gov. George Wallace of AL also used this “looting, shooting” phrase in his divisive 1968 presidential campaign (See Sprunt, B., wwwnpr.org, 5/29/20). Well racist Donald, as the saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.”
Most Democrats and even some GOPers, including Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, condemned Trump’s incendiary rhetoric. On Fox News, African American Sen. Scott called Trump’s tweets “not constructive.” Gov. Hogan called Trump’s rhetoric “just the opposite of the message that should have been coming out of the White House (cnn.com, Rogers, A., 5/31/20).” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms put it best. On 5/31/2020 on CNN’s “State of the Union” show, she told Jake Tapper, “He (Donald) should just stop talking. This is like Charlottesville all over again. He speaks and he makes it worse. There are times when you should just be quiet and I wish that he would just be quiet. Or if he can’t be silent, if there is somebody of good sense and good conscience in the White House, put him in front of a teleprompter and pray he reads it and at least says the right things, because he is making it worse (Duster, C., 5/31/20).” Let’s meet Mayor Bottoms.
Keisha Lance Bottoms (50) was born and grew up in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from Florida A&M University and received her law degree in 1994 from Georgia State College of Law. Bottoms was a former judge and member of the Atlanta City Council (cnn.com, Duster 5/31/2020, keishalancebottoms.com/about). She won election as Atlanta’s mayor in 2017 after winning a crowded primary and defeating fellow City Council member Mary Norwood in the runoff contest (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/21/17).
African American Bottoms is one of the Democrats’ rising stars. She is mayor of a city with a 2019 population of 506,811 people and the 37th most populous city in the U.S. Atlanta is about 57.9% black and 28.4% white. It has a large LGBTQ community. About 6.9% of Atlanta is Hispanic (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac). It is an air transportation hub and the headquarters of Coca-Cola and CNN (See Cohen & Cook 2020).
As mayor, Bottoms has been at the center of hot national issues. When rioters smashed cars and vandalized CNN’s headquarters on 5/29/2020, Bottoms appealed to this crowd by invoking the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She told them that “When Dr. King was assassinated, we didn’t do this (riot and vandalize) our city. If you care about this city, then go home (AP, Sloan & Barrow).” Bottoms then told the violent protestors, “I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old. And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt. And yesterday when I heard there were rumors about violent protests in Atlanta, I did what a mother would do, I called my son and I said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I cannot protect you and black boys shouldn’t be out today.’” She then delivered a frank and personal message to the rioters, “So, you’re not gong to out-concern me and out-care about where we are in America. I wear this each and every day, and I pray over my children, each and every day (cnn.com, Duster, 5/31/20).” While telling the rioters to leave, Mayor Bottoms also made sure that out-of-control police officers, unlike in Minneapolis, were quickly dealt with. When a video by CBS captured a group of police officers violently dragging two black college students from a car on 5/30/2020 and hitting them with Tasers, Mayor Bottoms immediately fired two police officers and assigned three others to desk duty for this “excessive use of force (huffpost.com, Miller, 5/31/20, nytimes.com, 6/02/20).” On 6/02/2020, arrest warrants were issued for six Atlanta police officers involved in this horrifying incident (nytimes.com, 6/02/20). And FYI, one of the first comments Mayor Bottoms made to the rioters was, “if you want to change America, go and register to vote… Do it in November (Cillizza, cnn.com, 6/02/20).” Exactly.
Bottoms remarks and actions during this crisis and her empathy have been widely praised (AP, Sloan & Barrow). Bottoms has also led the U.S. Conference of Mayors in getting a fair count in the census. Bottoms blasted Trump’s xenophobic immigration policies. She ended Atlanta’s city jail contract with federal immigration enforcement and closed Atlanta’s city detention center. She stated that Atlanta police “don’t enforce immigration borders and we won’t be complicit in family separation.” Bottoms dismissed the idea of targeting migrants as a means of reducing crime, as Trump often argues. Bottoms said her office would provide legal assistance to immigrant families in English and Spanish. She has warned those communities to be vigilant ahead of scheduled federal sweeps (cnn.com, Duster, 5/31/20, AP, Sloan & Barrow). Bottoms spoke out against GA opening up facilities too soon during the coronavirus epidemic and feared the rioters could also spread the virus with their mass gatherings (See cnn.com, Duster, 5/31/20).
Bottoms is considered one of the candidates Joe Biden may be looking at for his female VP running mate. Although fellow female black Georgian Stacey Abrams has often eclipsed her in the VP “sweepstakes,” Abrams lost her race to be Gov. of GA, while Bottoms won her mayoral contest. SC Democrat Jim Clyburn, whose influence among black S. Carolinians was key to Biden’s winning that primary race and getting the Democratic nomination, speaks highly of Bottoms. Bottoms told the AP that she has served in all branches of government, legislative, executive, and judicial. She also dealt with a massive cyberattack on Atlanta’s technology infrastructure as mayor, a matter that our federal government under Trump has basically ignored (AP Sloan & Barrow). Bottoms was with Biden from the get-go. She served as a precinct captain in overwhelmingly white Iowa during the early dismal days of Biden’s campaign. She then helped Biden win primaries in many of the Southern states, turning the tide (AP, Sloan & Barrow). Yes, she will need to study foreign policy if she is Biden’s VP running mate, but her record demonstrates she is one quick study on any issues she confronts. Bottoms, as noted, comes from GA. GA could easily be in play for Biden in 2020, with two hot Senate races and a growing black and Hispanic population. Our country needs more people like Mayor Bottoms in top leadership posts.