downtown atlanta vs. the poor
The City of Atlanta is at war with the poor. In March, city council passed a sweeping anti-homeless ordinance which illegalizes sleeping anywhere on city property. This makes criminals of every person who has nowhere to sleep but an overpass, sidewalk, or park bench.
More recently, they have banned smoking outdoors in city parks. Meanwhile, the rich are welcome to smoke as much as they want at expensive nightclubs and sidewalk cafes. This is a transparent move to harass poor people who often have nowhere else to congregate but the park. Visitors to Troy Davis Park (aka Woodruff Park) in Five Points will see "Downtown Ambassadors" enforcing this new law aggressively. The ambassadors are essentially private security hired by Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) to police a public park. I have seen plenty of poor-looking black men ordered out of the park for smoking, but never anyone in a suit, or holding a tourist map.
Next, CAP and other business interests are pushing to further criminalize panhandling in Atlanta, and particularly downtown. Though panhandling is already technically illegal downtown, that's not good enough. The business elite wants it to be punishable by 6 months in jail, and they want to make it easier for cops to bust people for daring to ask rich people to share their money.
The business community isn't shy about why they're pushing these measures: it's about money, lots of it. Real estate and development downtown is a major industry, and visible poverty is bad for business. Multi-million dollar development deals have fallen through because investors saw panhandlers in the area. Luxury hotels blame homeless people for decreased business. Poverty is a major problem for the wealthiest in Atlanta.
But that doesn't mean they want to end homelessness - quite the opposite. Central Atlanta Progress is a major player behind the effort to shut down the Peachtree & Pine Shelter, forcing hundreds more into the streets. Business elites have no problem with people being poor, they just want them to do it out of sight. They want the wealthy tourists and shoppers downtown to experience a city free of poverty or injustice, while the poor suffer in silence on the outskirts.
The rich own the city government. They can buy laws, they can buy cops, and they can buy the land itself. But they do not own the city. They cannot erase the existence of poor people, and they can't stop the many from claiming space that was previously reserved for a few. And when we reclaim that space, we win two things: a place to enjoy ourselves, welcome others, make plans, and a place which is useless to greedy developers, luxury retailers, and businessmen. So take back what's yours: take back the commons. Loiter! Panhandle! Hang out!