The shooting of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston by rogue Atlanta drug agents two years ago focused attention on Atlanta’s English Avenue neighborhood – or “The Bluff.” The Christian Science Monitor calls it “Atlanta’s roughest ‘hood – dumping ground for old furniture, haven of rabbit-size rats, and scene of broad-daylight drug dealing and pimping.” Now, a black-white coalition is determined to find “angel investors” and bring together local businesses, neighboring Georgia Tech, and church leaders to inspire not just city and private investment, but also to light a spark of hope among law-abiding residents.
There have been massive clean-up efforts, a small but significant drop in crime, and glimmers of fresh paint and clean-swept front walks. “Don’t underestimate the power of this tragedy,” says the pastor of Lindsay Street Baptist Church. Johnston’s death in a hail of 39 police bullets exemplified to many civil libertarians the futility and danger of SWAT-style drug raids. Based on a dubious tip and a fabricated search warrant, officers broke into Johnston’s home in 2006. They found the scared and fragile woman seated in a chair with a rusted revolver in her hand. Believing the armed, black-clad officers were intruders, she fired one shot. The officers fired back. Since then, the Atlanta Police Department has rebuilt the drug unit with new officers, and the City Council formed a civilian police review board to investigate complaints. Three of the officers have been convicted and are awaiting sentencing.