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Local Govt & Politics

    What’s a Fourth of July in Atlanta without The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race? What’s an Independence Day with so few parades and pyrotechnics? The answer to those questions was this July Fourth, a Fourth without the famed 10-K race and a holiday weekend in which many communities opted to cancel, postpone or alter their patriotic festivities under the threat of a resurgent coronavirus. Complete coverage: Coronavirus in Georgia Georgians still flocked to lakes, beaches and the mountains. Many restaurants and bars saw their patios and dining rooms in high demand. Amateur pyrotechnicians — who are busy on any given Fourth — filled in for professional shows canceled across the Atlanta area. Georgians still hung Old Glory from their porches and flag poles. Some cities went ahead with their holiday parades, if in somewhat modified form. Cities like Woodstock and Cumming still lit up the night sky with their annual fireworks, while encouraging social distancing. With cases of coronavirus surging in Georgia, Ralph and Gwen Yoss, of Powder Springs, had not expected to attend any of the usual Independence Day festivities. So, the Fourth of July came to them. In a “virtual” patriotic celebration, the city of Powder Springs held a drive-by parade that stretched more than mile into various neighborhoods. The city’s mayor, Al Thurman, and several council members, and staff from the city’s parks and recreation department, participated. Supporters of Black Lives Matter also attended. “We love it!” said Gwen Yoss, referring to the patriotic drive-by. “The Fourth of July means everything in the world to me,’’ said Ralph Yoss, a retired Navy officer. “We are blessed to be here.” In many places, parades were replaced by protests over racial injustice and police brutality that have swept through Atlanta and cities across the nation since the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. Zarya Ajasin, an organizer of a peaceful downtown Atlanta march that started from the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, said the demonstrators were doing their patriotic duty. “What’s more American than fighting for liberty and justice for all?” she said. ‘This virus is real’ The coronavirus, meanwhile, didn’t recognize the holiday. On Saturday, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) reported 2,826 new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, the third-highest daily tally yet. The state also reported one death. To date, Georgia has reported 93,319 confirmed infections and 2,857 deaths attributed to the virus. Complete coverage: AJC COVID-19 Dashboard On Friday, more than 1,400 medical professionals signed an open letter urging Gov. Brian Kemp to close bars and restaurants, ban indoor gatherings of more than 25 people, require masks and allow local governments to impose stricter rules to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Kemp barnstormed the state encouraging Georgians to wear masks, socially distance and follow other public health guidelines. But he stopped short of issuing any new mandates, including a requirement for people to wear face coverings. On Saturday, the Atlanta Braves, which recently rebooted camp to prepare for an abbreviated baseball season, announced four players — including star first baseman Freddie Freeman — have tested positive for the virus. The team said pitchers Will Smith and Touki Toussaint and utilityman Pete Kozma also tested positive. Freeman and Kozma have symptoms, Braves manager Brian Snitker said, while Smith and Toussaint are asymptomatic. Snitker said he applauded the players for allowing the team to release their names. “This virus is real. It’s something we have to be aware of,” Snitker said. “It’s something that’s serious if we’re going to continue on and play our games.” Powder Springs parade A handful of Powder Springs residents sat in their front yards, waving to cars as they drove by in the “virtual” parade. Few in Powder Springs wore masks as they watched the parade. But Vicki McGee did. She said she won’t take hers off in public. “We want to have a little fun but also be careful,” she said. During the parade, several Powder Springs residents displayed Black Lives Matter signs on their cars, to highlight racial inequities that still exist. Photos from the parade Tamara Woods, a member of the city’s arts and cultural affairs commission, said she had been disappointed that the city had not held a Juneteenth celebration to commemorate the emancipation of African-American slaves after the Civil War. She and her friend, Cammy Gaines, also joined the caravan of cars, displaying Black Lives Matter signs on their vehicles. “This is a perfect day to celebrate everybody’s independence,’’ said Woods, whose great-grandfather, Luke Penn, was among the first African-Americans to own land in the city of Powder Springs. “We need to have open arms and say everyone is accepted and all races are welcomed.” Thurman, the city’s first African American mayor elected in 2015, said he did not object to the display of Black Lives Matter signs during the patriotic drive-by. “I don’t really have an issue with it as long as it’s peaceful,’’ Thurman said. ‘A great stepping stone’ At the King historical park, a crowd of a few hundred started marching through a driving rain storm. The racially diverse crowd ended the march at the State Capitol and demanded changes to policing and the criminal justice system. Many called for portions of police budgets to be redirected to social work, mental health and community programs. Jerri West, of Stone Mountain, was part of a group that brought refreshments for demonstrators. “I’d normally be with my family,” he said. “My family is doing the social distancing thing. We’ll probably do a Zoom call later.” West said he sees July Fourth becoming a regular date for Americans to rally for social justice. “This is a great stepping stone to a great movement,” he said. Staff writer Gabe Burns contributed to this report.
  • MARTA will begin distributing up to two million disposable masks to customers Monday as it seeks to protect passengers during the coronavirus pandemic. The agency will give away masks from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on weekdays at its transit stations across metro Atlanta. It will consider expanding the distribution to weeknights and weekends based on ridership demand, MARTA said in announcing the move Friday. But the agency stopped short of requiring masks to board MARTA trains and buses. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have instituted safety precautions and new cleaning protocols in order to continue providing essential transit service while protecting our customers and employees,” CEO Jeffrey Parker said in announcing the move. “We are now asking our customers to join us in helping to stop the spread of this virus by wearing a mask while on MARTA.” Metro Atlanta transit agencies have not required customers to wear masks during the pandemic, and some doubt they can legally do so. But as the number of COVID-19 cases surges, they are still searching for ways to keep customers safe while providing service to low-income residents, essential workers and others who rely on transit. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • MARTA will begin distributing up to two million disposable masks to customers Monday as it seeks to protect passengers during the coronavirus pandemic. The agency will give away masks from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on weekdays at its transit stations across metro Atlanta. It will consider expanding the distribution to weeknights and weekends based on ridership demand, MARTA said in announcing the move Friday. But the agency stopped short of requiring masks to board MARTA trains and buses. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have instituted safety precautions and new cleaning protocols in order to continue providing essential transit service while protecting our customers and employees,” CEO Jeffrey Parker said in announcing the move. “We are now asking our customers to join us in helping to stop the spread of this virus by wearing a mask while on MARTA.” Metro Atlanta transit agencies have not required customers to wear masks during the pandemic, and some doubt they can legally do so. But as the number of COVID-19 cases surges, they are still searching for ways to keep customers safe while providing service to low-income residents, essential workers and others who rely on transit. Among other things, the agencies have stepped up cleaning of buses, trains and stations. MARTA also has eliminated most bus routes to focus service on heavily used corridors. The move has helped provide enough buses on those routes to allow for fewer passengers per bus and encourage social distancing. Beginning Monday, MARTA customers will be able to get masks from uniformed station agents or from volunteers wearing a red “Team MARTA” shirt. Each customer will select an individual mask from a tissue-like dispenser. Volunteers from transit advocacy groups including the MARTA Army and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition also will participate. “We appreciate those riders who are wearing masks and understand you may not have access to masks or there may be a day you forget yours,” Parker said. “We want you to know we’ve got you covered and to please take and wear a mask before boarding a bus or train.”
  • Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced on Thursday that she would join 10 other mayors from across the nation to explore providing guaranteed incomes to disadvantaged residents. The mayor’s office issued a press release with few details about how such a program would work in Atlanta, and provided a link to a website called Mayors For Guaranteed Income, which listed Stockton, Calif. and Jackson, Miss. as having pilot programs. “A guaranteed income is a monthly cash payment given directly to individuals, empowering recipients to address their most urgent needs and providing a cushion for unpredictable expenses, external shocks, and volatility,” a press release issued by the mayor’s office on Wednesday said. “It is unconditional and is meant to supplement, rather than replace, the existing social safety net.” The press release said the group of mayors is a partnership with the Economic Security Project, an organization that disburses grants and identifies socioeconomic gaps, according to its website. The mayors include Michael D. Tubbs of Stockton, Calif., where a pilot program has been providing $500 per month to 125 residents since February 2019, according to the website. Other members of the coalition include Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minn., and Ras J. Baraka from Newark, N.J. The announcement comes as Bottoms has been identified as a potential vice presidential candidate being vetted by Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Garcetti is a member of Biden’s vice presidential selection committee. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • The public health department for Cobb and Douglas counties issued an alert Wednesday warning of a “substantial rise” in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. The alert pointed to evidence of increased transmission that could not be attributed to additional testing, with the positivity rate at local testing sites surpassing 10 percent.  This has been mirrored by an increase in COVID-19 related 911 calls, emergency room visits, hospitalizations and demand for intensive care unit beds, the agency said. “Residents are strongly encouraged to follow public health guidelines, particularly as we approach the July 4th holiday weekend,” Janet Memark, the doctor who leads the department, said in a statement.  Fortunately, she added, the death rate has continued to decline as the rise in new cases appears to predominantly affect younger age groups.  The alert came the same day Georgia set a new record with nearly 3,000 new confirmed cases.  Read more on ajc.com. 
  • Georgia reported more than 11,000 new cases of the coronavirus from June 21 to Saturday, a new one-week record of confirmed cases that shattered the state’s previous high set only the week before. The 11,176 new confirmed cases reported last week was up 60% compared to the week of June 14, according to an analysis of data from the state Department of Public Health (DPH). Georgia has set a new single-day record for coronavirus cases in each of the past three days, and topped 2,000 in a day for the first time with Sunday’s report of 2,225 confirmed cases. The coronavirus has seen a resurgence in the U.S., particularly across the South and West, as states reopen their economies. Georgia was among the last states to mandate shelter-in-place, and since the end of April has been among the more the aggressive states in loosening restrictions on businesses and residents. Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter-in-place order ended for most Georgians on April 30, and the state reported gradually declining cases that month and in the early days of May. But since that time, Georgia reported week-over-week increases in six out of the past seven weeks, including in each of the past four weeks. Much of the growth is centered in metro Atlanta, but higher case rates occurred across many of Georgia’s 159 counties. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • The state of Georgia reported nearly 2,000 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, a new record since the start of the pandemic, and a high-water mark that comes only a day after the state set its previous high. The state Department of Public Health reported 1,990 new cases and six deaths from the disease. Georgia has reported more than 1,700 cases in each of the past five days. Demand for coronavirus testing has also increased in recent days as cases in the metro area continue to climb, local health departments said. >> FOLLOW | AJC’s complete coronavirus coverage The rise in COVID-19 cases has come in weeks after Georgia has loosened restrictions on movement and businesses, and as daily protests of racial injustice and police brutality have carried on since the end of May. On Saturday, rallies and protests took place across the metro area, including one large gathering in Cobb County in support of police and another in southwest Atlanta for the families of Black men and women killed by officers. Public health officials have said the rise in cases relate to a breakdown in social distancing. State officials have not linked cases specifically to protests, but have urged protesters to get tested. At DeKalb’s six county testing sites, the numbers of people tested has roughly doubled incrementally over the past two weeks, said health department spokesman Eric Nickens Jr. On Thursday, DeKalb saw a record 1,514 people being tested across the six sites. The Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale Health Department has been consistently testing between 3,600 and 3,700 people each week at its four county sites, but this past week the number rose to more than 4,000 tests conducted, said spokesman Chris Wasdin. Despite the increases, neither health department reports having to turn away anyone seeking tests. Some centers reported long lines of cars with patients awaiting tests. >> READ | A look at major coronavirus developments during the past week The tri-county department operates two testing locations in Gwinnett and one each in Newton and Rockdale. Despite the recent increases, neither health department reports having to turn away anyone seeking tests. In addition to the county sites, a number of private sites are also offering tests in the metro area. Fulton Board of Health did not have figures available before deadline. Group rallies for police A few hundred pro-police demonstrators rallied at a park near Powder Springs on Saturday, urging residents to support officers. Waves of protests in metro Atlanta and cities across the nation were sparked by the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Steve Gaynor, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Cobb and a speaker at the rally, slammed the decision by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to charge two Atlanta police officers in connection to the shooting death earlier this month of Rayshard Brooks before a state investigation of the incident is complete. Police were called to the Wendy’s on University Avenue to a report of a man asleep in his car in the drive-through. Brooks was given a field sobriety test and a breath test and as he was being placed in handcuffs, he resisted arrest. Brooks and the officers wrestled on the ground and Brooks was able to take one officer’s Taser and flee. >> READ | 170 Atlanta police officers called out sick during ‘Blue Flu’ protests, records show Video of the incident showed Brooks running from officers and appear to turn back and fire or attempt to fire the Taser as he ran. Officer Garrett Rolfe fired on Brooks. An autopsy said Brooks died of “gunshot wounds of the back.” Rolfe was fired the next day and Chief Erika Shields resigned from her post. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, faces lesser charges in the incident. Gaynor said Rolfe and Brosnan were justified in their actions. “There’s no way that an officer who followed the guidelines and the policies and procedures and the law should be sitting in a jail at this time,” Gaynor said of Rolfe. Since Brooks’ shooting, Atlanta police have suffered from officers calling out sick in protest, city officials have said, and the department has had to scramble to ensure coverage of the city. A man who identified himself to a reporter as Joe Smith said calls to defund the police will lead to less safe communities. “The ramifications that could happen in south Atlanta if the police are defunded are a scary thing,” he said. Smith also accused the media of brushing aside Brooks’ criminal record. ‘We will make you see us’ In Southwest Atlanta, families of Georgia Black men and women killed by police called for prosecutions in their cases. A moment of silence was held for about two dozen people shot by police or former police officers. Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta NAACP, said cellphone video has helped bring justice to cases that in the past might have been swept under a rug. “It takes all of us, all of us, to understand this system isn’t good if your skin is black,” he said. Among the speakers was Monteria Robinson, whose 26-year-old son Jamarion, was shot 76 times inside his girlfriend’s East Point apartment in 2016 by a local-federal joint fugitive task force. Authorities have said they were trying to arrest the man for allegedly pointing a gun at officers in a previous incident. Supporters held signs showing wounds and x-rays of Jamarion Robinson’s body. His mother said Howard has sat on the case for more than four years. The officers involved did not have body cameras. “If you do not see us, we will make you see us,” Monteria Robinson said. Howard, who attended the rally, has blamed jurisdictional issues and sued the Justice Department for failing to cooperate with his investigation. “Our major problem is how to reconstruct a crime scene when the officers won’t testify and we don’t have body cameras,” he said. >> Atlanta protests: Complete coverage But Howard was shouted down by supporters of Robinson. Organizers calmed the crowd saying the event was not about politics but supporting the families.
  • Speaking to more than 100 police officers Saturday morning, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins renewed his call for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to step aside during the investigation into the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. Collins, who is also running for U.S. Senate, said Howard’s charging of the two officers involved in the case was politically motivated. Howard is entering a runoff against a challenger to keep his seat for a seventh term. “You don’t do it for politics. Your job is to find justice for everyone,” Collins said atop the parking deck next to the Atlanta police headquarters downtown. He said an independent prosecutor should take over the case. His remarks about Howard drew loud cheers from the law enforcement officers at the rally, several of whom were in uniform. “We haven’t forgotten you,” Collins told the crowd. Early Saturday afternoon, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted a link to a previous statement outlining that his office has the legal authority to appoint another prosecutor to a case only if a court disqualifies the DA or if the DA recuses himself or herself. Carr’s statement did not specifically mention Howard or the Brooks case. A spokeswoman for Carr’s office said the tweet was not in response to Saturday’s rally, but rather was intended to clear up misinformation about the law. Republican state senators and representatives also spoke at the rally, including Sen. Mike Dugan, the Senate majority leader. On Wednesday, Howard announced his office was bringing criminal charges against Garrett Rolfe, who shot Brooks, and Officer Devin Brosnan. Rolfe was fired after the fatal incident. Several Atlanta police officers stayed home from work Wednesday night, a reaction to two weeks of turmoil that has sunk morale “tenfold,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently said on CNN. MORE POLITICS NEWS: Loeffler goes to Collins’ hometown to slam his ‘big tech’ stance Howard’s announcement came amid widespread protests against racism and police violence, and calls to shift public funding from police departments to other social services. The speakers Saturday did not specifically mention the Black Lives Matter movement or other cases of police misconduct that have sparked the protests.
  • Speaking to more than 100 police officers Saturday morning, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins renewed his call for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to step aside during the investigation into the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. Collins, who is also running for U.S. Senate, said Howard’s charging of the two officers involved in the case was politically motivated. Howard is entering a runoff against a challenger to keep his seat for a seventh term. “You don’t do it for politics. Your job is to find justice for everyone,” Collins said atop the parking deck next to the Atlanta police headquarters downtown. He said an independent prosecutor should take over the case. His remarks about Howard drew loud cheers from the law enforcement officers at the rally, several of whom were in uniform. “We haven’t forgotten you,” Collins told the crowd. Early Saturday afternoon, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted a link to a previous statement outlining that his office has the legal authority to appoint another prosecutor to a case only if a court disqualifies the DA or if the DA recuses himself or herself. Carr’s statement did not specifically mention Howard or the Brooks case. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office has indicted former Atlanta Watershed Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina on charges of conspiring to commit bribery, bribery and aiding and abetting the preparation of false income tax returns. Macrina was fired by former Mayor Kasim Reed on May 20, 2016. She is the fifth high-ranking or formerly high-ranking city of Atlanta official to face charges in the federal government’s ongoing corruption investigation at city hall, but she is only one of two who have vowed to fight the charges. The other, Mitzi Bickers, is scheduled to go to trial in September. In a statement, her attorney, Paul Kish, said that Macrina began cooperating with federal investigators the day after she lost her job and met with agents more than 25 times. “The government apparently indicted her after failing to obtain enough evidence against the main targets of its investigation,” Kish wrote. ” The prosecution has now turned on its own witness and indicted the person who told investigators where to find the fraud.” The indictment alleges that between 2014 and the time she the city fired her, Macrina helped a joint venture firm led by Lohrasb “Jeff” Jafari win a architectural, engineering and design contract worth $11 million even though the firm initially scored at the bottom of the bid rankings. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.