On Monday night, December 19th, I had the misfortune of needing to call the Dekalb County Police to my mother’s house. We (my mother, stepfather, aunt & uncle, and I) had just returned from a joyous gathering where we met my cousin’s newborn daughter Amara, ate a late lunch, laughed, and played cards for a few hours. When we arrived back at my mother’s a bit before 8 pm, we saw that her home had been burglarized. After I called the police, we all anxiously waited downstairs, hoping no burglar remained in the house.
It took over half an hour for the police to arrive. We realized that night that we had lost three generations of unique Indian jewelry, a coin collection, a safe the size of a college fridge, and a lot of faith. My very sense of security is shaken. Beyond that, what I witness in my local law enforcement: the complete lack of urgency, care, and competence, is most shocking. When I combine their response here to Dekalb County Police actions in the South River Forest on the opposite end of town, I am perplexed. I wonder WHO actually does Dekalb County serve? What JUSTICE does the symbol on their police crest actually represent?
Dekalb County Police: Paid to Do Nothing?
Back to Monday night, the 19th, once the initial two police officers arrived, they did a sweep of our home. After a cursory look around, one of the officers left without notice! No one took photos, walked outside, or fingerprinted the house. I was a bit confused, and as the other Officer, Officer M, left, he gave us a card containing a case number. On the car, conspicuously unfilled on the card, was where Officer M was supposed to provide his PHONE NUMBER. Noticing that, I insisted that Officer M. take my phone number instead, so that at least one line of communication could be established. Luckily, in just a few minutes, Officer M called me to clarify some detail for his report. He happened to be sitting outside the house in his car, and as we talked, he decided to come back inside our home.
On this second entry, I asked Officer M how the burglars entered the home. As we were discussing and trying to figure out how the burglary happened (we had to figure that out ourselves), we decided, by chance, to look at the backyard. We discovered damage to the home’s exterior, where the burglars (presumably) exited and entered the house. Broken ceramic pots and glass shards sprinkled down from the upstairs window. After his second visit to the home, it was only then that Officer M finally called a detective. By now, it was past 10 pm.
After another half hour, a man, presumably the detective on duty, wearing a suit jacket, arrived. This detective did not want to take photos, fingerprints, or blood swabs. I have seen enough Law & Order (in addition to my legal training) to realize we would lose any evidence once the family began cleaning. After locating a few spots of blood over broken glass, we insisted that the detective take at least a blood swab. I actually had to provide the detective with Q-tips, a towel, and a bag so he could collect evidence. Why does a detective have no evidence kit? Beyond the suit jacket, what makes him a detective? Of course, this detective had no card for us to reach him again.
When the two Dekalb Police employees ultimately left us, my family began cleaning. As we did, we wondered how anyone would find the burglars. Without taking photos, evidence, or inspiring any shred of faith in their capacity, I wondered how (if at all) the Dekalb County Police would even try to bring my family justice. They would not take photos nor make any substantive effort to document the condition of my mother’s home. I was left with a card saying a police report would be available in a few days and still maybe longer for a different detective to be assigned to the case. Hanging over us, their overall aura of nonchalance was excruciating. In the four days since, there has been rainy and stormy weather. All traces of blood and any further evidence are gone. Meanwhile, I suspect our family jewelry is getting fenced or re-gifted. Our family still has no assigned detective. We have received no follow-up and no leads. I feel a bit like the Dude in the Big Lebowski. Finally, I realized I would have to do some legwork myself.
Dekalb Police: Hired Guns for Developers?
On the other end of town, a much longer yarn has been brewing. On Saturday, immediately preceding the robbery, I attended a solidarity bike ride and rally for the #DefendtheForest movement working to #StopCopCity. The weekend event was a response to Dekalb County Police entering the forest the week before and slashing campers’ tents. Later, the Dekalb County Police arrested tree-sitters and charged them with domestic terrorism. Sending Dekalb County Police to disrupt peaceful protests (on a public park and a mutual aid operation) is a jarring escalation in a long-running dispute. A representative of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund speaks to the sense of shock.
There, at Intrenchment Creek Park, where environmental justice meets economic exploitation, in the less affluent section of Dekalb County, public resources are being spent to further the interests of a developer. Dekalb County tried to pull off a shady land deal with Blackhall Studios. While there is ongoing litigation, an agreement to prevent further destruction of the park is ignored. It appears that Dekalb County Officials are lackadaisical in enforcing the agreement prohibiting Blackhall Studios from working on the property while litigation is pending. Again, who does the Dekalb County Police serve?
What about us?
I suppose I have been a little confused lately. What exactly are our public services for? In the wake of George Floyd’s death, I heard many calls to `Defund the Police.` I did not fully understand the force behind the idea. Now, I have a direct and personal understanding of the sentiment. While I was on the fence about the idea, I am coming along to appreciate the validity of some abolitionist arguments. I want my local taxes to improve social services and grow the community. I do not see why the police need militarized training and weapons when they won’t bother to do basic investigations and de-escalate conflicts. What exactly is accomplished in having police run around in the newest version of SUVs? Why is this where my money goes?
In dealing with this crime, I have turned into our family detective. First, I traced the entryway of the burglars into our home. With the assistance of my neighbors, I pinpointed when the lights came on at our house (while we were not home). Finally, I am keeping an eye out for online sales of potentially fenced jewelry. I managed to do all this while still waiting for updates and even the assignment of an actual detective from Dekalb County Police. Mainly I want to know where is the moral compass behind this agency. Who there is now inspiring any bit of trust?
As I have returned to Atlanta, the kind of crime and drama I notice are incomprehensible. It often feels like I have come from the 1st world in Japan to Atlanta, a war-torn developing country. In Tokyo, I have a lovely memory of a police officer helping me pump air into my bike tires. In Atlanta, I mainly see cops gathered around coffee and donuts. Instead of public institutions, I have turned to my local community. My neighborhood association and the kindness of my larger community are helping me investigate and heal. Please follow along as I witness what goes on in my hometown.
Others also seem discontented over Dekalb’s Leadership:
Latest procedural action in the citizen’s action against the disputed land swap (as of 12/23/22). Emergency Request for TRO on Forest Land
Another thought provoking piece. The police do an important and difficult job in all the countries I’m familiar with (Japan and the the UK in particular). They also have a darker side, part of which is that they serve those with money and power. In Japan, many police ride around on bicycles or drive a ‘mini pato’ (Small Patrol Car). Perhaps if the SUVs you talk about were defunded and the police in the US required to downsize in a similar way they might learn some humility and remember that they too are part of a community that looks to them for a sense of security and reassurance that somebody has its back.
Someone has to raise the voice
Hope some one listens