Here’s a story detailing efforts being undertaken to increase security in East Atlanta Village. “Village” is something of a misnomer: EAV is just a commercial strip near a series of single-family residential neighborhoods that were the epicenter of gentrification about ten years ago. Think Hipster Central, with little boutiques and bars serving Pabst Blue Ribbon, live music venues starring dudes with mandolins, that sort of thing. But like every other gentrifying neighborhood in the city, there’s a lot of conflict, as an “us v. them” mentality arises.
One of the remarkable things about writing fiction about Atlanta is that it’s impossible to extricate class conflict from racial conflict, all because of a dynamic I’ve mentioned multiple times on this blog: there are essentially no poor white people inside the city limits. So while there are thousands of affluent black people, they generally, for what they feel are excellent historical reasons, tend to stay in their own almost hermetically sealed private culture; gentrifying white people, outside the workplace, only see black people who are poor, and only see poor people who are black.
Fundamentally, the conflict in these gentrifying neighborhoods is a class conflict: (white) people move in, with what to the locals is a lot of money, and they fix up the house they bought and start having cute little white kids. And while the white gentrifiers are usually superficially pleasant to their impoverished black neighbors, they’re generally not going to invite them in or expect to be invited in. And like gentrifiers everywhere, they have absurdly unrealistic expectations about how the neighborhood should change the minute they move in: the police, who have been regarded as a hostile occupying force for decades and who largely leave the poor to their own devices, are suddenly expected to keep the neighborhood as safe as the affluent district the gentrifiers moved from. And they certainly won’t send their kids to the local public schools, nor let them run wild with the other neighborhood kids.
There are cultural conflicts (life among functional urban poor blacks is usually centered around a strong Christian church; educated white people are militantly secular), economic conflicts, conflicts of taste and decorum (poor people tend to play music much more loudly in public spaces), etc. Just something as simple as the habit of gentrifiers of fencing in their front yard rather than just the back is a physical manifestation of a cultural conflict.
And then once enough “pioneers” (a deeply problematic word) arrive, they start developing businesses; and these businesses do not cater to poor urban blacks. It’s not Jim Crow: they’re not going to stop black people from walking in. But there are enough cultural differences between these businesses and the ones the locals are used to that the locals won’t generally go there. Why in the world would you spend good money on cupcakes for a dog? And then there’s a bar and restaurant district, where black people might work, but the owners and patrons are largely white. And the customers have a few drinks and walk around the corner to their car, and someone pulls up on them, draws down and robs them. Then shoots them.
This has happened twice in EAV in the last week, and the white folks are just up in arms about it, as they should be. It’s their neighborhood, after all. And most of the remaining black residents are upset about it too, not only because murder = bad, but also because this means the cops are going to come down on them looking for suspects and/or scapegoats. What’s going to happen? In about a week, some cousin is going to snitch on the extremely stupid 17-year-old boy who never had a pot to piss in and envied everyone else’s wealth and success, and failed out of school, and listened to too many gangsta epics written by rappers who work for record labels run by white people, and decided that he was going to make a name for himself by shooting some yuppie white people who’d had one too many craft microbrews. This kid will get life without parole, at a yearly expense to the state equivalent to about 2.5 full-time college students, and the family of the dead guy, a Georgia Tech grad who worked in the IT industry, will mourn. And about two years from now, some other stupid 17-year-old boy will show up, not having heard of what happened to the last one, and he’ll kill someone else with education and dreams and value to society.
The murderer’s story? Not that interesting: it’s a paint-by-numbers of deprivation. The victim’s story? More so, but as he’s fundamentally a victim of random crime, it’s hard to draw a parallel between his life and death. The class conflict? That’s where the real story lies.