Atlanta Councilwoman and Emory alumna Mary Norwood (74C) may be the current frontrunner in Atlanta’s upcoming mayoral race, but her past and proposed handling of the Atlanta Police Department (APD) is far too soft, and should concern voters.
APD is featured prominently on Norwood’s list of “Legislative Success” as a councilwoman on her website, which also lists her mayoral platform. Specifically, she supports both an increase in officer pay and the establishment of a task force to prevent gang violence. She also lists supporting the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 as another key piece of her public safety record. That is an interesting choice, considering she only signed a City Council resolution in support of the federal bill but she could not vote for the federal bill itself. How its passage constitutes a legislative success for her is unclear, but its inclusion reads like lip service to criminal justice reform.
Norwood isn’t a genuine advocate of fixing the broken criminal justice system, and that is made clearer by her close ties to police. She has earned the endorsements of Atlanta’s most prominent police unions, the Southern States Police Benevolent Association and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO). IBPO President Lt. Stephen Zygaj called Norwood a “consistent advocate for Atlanta police” in a May 2017 Norwood press release published on her website. Her actions on the campaign trail certainly support that statement, as she initially refused to raise a “yes” sign when candidates were asked if police “target or racially profile black and brown males in the community.” Norwood later conceded to raise the “yes” sign and claimed that her hesitation was to “[show] deference and support for our APD officers.”
Prioritization of the police over Atlanta’s citizens is a concerning trend in Norwood’s campaign. Her website features 11 “solutions” pages dedicated to specific issues, including public safety. But her first solution to issues of public safety is increased police officer pay to maintain “an experienced 2,000 sworn force.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimates that the current force amounts to around 1,400, a number that hit a peak at 2,000 in 2013, after a low of 1,300 in 2009. Despite the fluctuating size of the police force, overall crime, including burglaries, robberies and aggravated assaults, has been consistently down since 2009 compared to previous years. This raises the question of why public safety is such a priority for Norwood despite the downward tick in crime, as public safety earns a webpage but issues such as education do not.
A Norwood mayorship would be a regression from the Reed administration. Her proposals to bolster APD read like an attempt to gain cops’ support under the guise of public safety. That disincentivizes Norwood from enacting necessary regulations on the department, and although she says that during her term she would not tolerate “discriminatory or prejudicial practices or acts” from APD, the conspicuous consistency of her pro-police stance casts severe doubt on this claim. With Emory’s annexation into Atlanta looming, hopefully one of Emory’s first contributions as part of Atlanta is not a mayor incapable of pushing back against the APD and racial profiling.
Isaiah Sirois is a College sophomore from Nashua, N.H.