A few things to add to the AJC’s coverage today:
Mayor Maynard Jackson
Jackson played an extremely toxic role in the child murder crisis, something Atlanta historians and political pundits never seem to remember. First he denied and played down the crimes (sound familiar?). Then he played politics, antagonizing the police at every turn. Then he monetized the dead children, raking in wads of cash from the feds and private donors. City tax money was re-routed to go to poor neighborhoods and pay for the parenting that wasn’t happening with Atlanta’s vulnerable kids. Jackson built a formidable patronage machine with that cash.
Dead children registered “cha-ching” in city hall.
All About the Money
Where did the money go? Well, a lot of it got spread around to Jackson cronies who were supposed to provide after-school and pre-school and camp programs for deprived kids — this was the important historical moment when the city’s taxpayers would increasingly take on the burden of raising these kids, morning, noon, and night.
Fair enough. The taxpayers didn’t complain. And the practice persists to today, to such an extensive degree that it always amazes me when some well-intentioned but naive person says, “we don’t need more prisons; we need more after-school programs.” We have after-school programs. We have pre-school programs. We have summer programs and overnight programs and in-school programs. The city is saturated with these types of social services — that guy mowing his lawn next door, whose politics you don’t like, is paying more every year to help poor kids than they collect in ten years in that change jar sanctimoniously displayed at the health food collective.
So are you.
But it is a sin, the amount of money raised to help those kids that ended up in some Jackson crony’s pocket. I arrived in Atlanta a decade after the Child Murders, and I worked in some of those social service programs that were founded to keep kids safe from the killings. That is where I learned everything I know about the ugly side of “community outreach.” The set-up was always the same: a few saintly neighborhood women did all the work of taking care of these kids, for minimum wage, or for free. Then there were the crooks piggybacking off the programs, ponying up to the microphone at press conferences, hanging with the politicians and politically-connected ministers, getting grants for “consulting” or “mentoring” or some other vague blather, pretending to do job training that never really happened. These people raked in six-figure salaries for no-show jobs on the backs of poor and vulnerable kids, and they were untouchable.
And they’re still around.
The cops, of course, got the short end of the stick, like they always do. They were serially accused of not caring enough, or working hard enough, by people whose idea of making a contribution was holding press conferences to denounce cops before heading out to that night’s black-tie fund-raiser, hand outstretched.
The cops were hammered by the professional activists, hammered by the Mayor, pillored by the national press. Then, when everybody else went home, it was the cops who sat up all night under some bridge waiting for the next body to drop, or got called to the scene when a small corpse was found and had to tell the child’s mother. The cops knew the neighborhoods where children disappeared. They knew the pornographers trolling for kids around Cabbagetown, and they knew the middle-aged men picking up 14-year old prostitutes on Memorial Drive. Cops are not saints, but they spent their working lives trying to keep these kids safe, and to this day they still have not been given credit for doing this.
If people had spent less time criticizing the cops and more time supporting them, would Wayne Williams have been caught any sooner? There is no way to know. But the city would have healed faster after these horrific crimes and emerged more united.
That path wasn’t taken thirty years ago. Is it a lesson we can finally learn, when what is happening this time is children killing each other?