Atlanta police increase patrols after deadly nightclub shootings
A string of five separate shootings at nightclubs since August have left 5 dead and 7 wounded
By Alexis Stevens
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Police Department is increasing patrols around the city's nightclubs after a string of recent shootings.
"People don't duke it out anymore," said Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore. "They pull out their gun."
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms addressed the shootings Wednesday and noted in particular one that left a Chicago rapper and another man dead.
"We're open as if we are not in the midst of a pandemic," she said during a news conference. "There's not a lot that we can do about that locally because obviously, the governor has made the decision to keep the state open."
Bottoms sent a later statement clarifying she was not pinning blame for any one incident on Gov. Brian Kemp.
"The Mayor and the Governor have disagreements on policies related to COVID-19 — this is nothing new. At no point did the Mayor place blame at the feet of any individual elected official for the tragic shooting in question," the statement said. "The Mayor is consistent in her desire for uniform policies to combat COVID-19 — or at the very least, the opportunity for local control so that municipalities can tailor policies specific to their own communities."
The governor's office, pointing to Bottoms' updated statement, did not comment.
Moore said the council is working to make sure the city is enforcing policies already in place, such as making sure clubs don't have more patrons than allowed by fire marshals. Officers are also working to verify business permits and working with club managers on safety measures, Officer C. J. Johnson said.
City Council Member Howard Shook said Bottoms could quell the violence by ordering clubs to close.
"The Mayor could shut all of this down with an executive order and enforce the law," Shook said.
Closing nightclubs likely wouldn't end the violence, Atlanta Police Union president Sgt. Jason Segura said.
"If you close those commercial clubs, there's going to be pop-up clubs. And they're not going to be regulated," he said. "You shut down one avenue and another is going to open."
Officers are resigning or retiring in higher numbers than usual this year, he has said.
"Now we have a hard time with visibility because officers are spread so thin," Segura said. "They're stacked up and working on multiple calls."
Many nightclubs and bars hire off-duty Atlanta officers to work security jobs. But Segura said some nightspots may not be willing to pay for the number of security guards needed.
"The officers don't get inside the club unless they called in," he said. "They're generally in the parking lot so people know they're close by."
Violence isn't just a nightclub problem. This year is the deadliest in more than a decade, with 128 homicides. There were 99 in 2019.
Still, the string of nightclub shootings has officials on alert.
On Nov. 6, Chicago rapper King Von, whose real name was Dayvon Bennett, hosted his "Welcome to O'Block" album release party at the Monaco Hookah Lounge on Trinity Avenue in downtown Atlanta. Bennett and 34-year-old Mark Blakely of Chicago were killed in a shootout that injured four others when a fight started outside the club.
Three days later, police were involved in another shooting that left one man dead and another injured outside The Voo lounge on Campbellton Road near Childress Drive in southwest Atlanta.
On Oct. 29, an employee of the Members Only lounge in the Old Fourth Ward died from a gunshot wound to his chest. Authorities said Caleb Culbreath, 27, of Jonesboro, was shot following a dispute over the admission price.
A week before Culbreath was killed, 35-year-old Andre Pierce was shot multiple times after leaving the Compound Nightclub in west Midtown. He died from his injuries.
In August, two people were injured during a shooting inside the Déjà Vu Sports Bar & Lounge on Campbellton Road.
After the coronavirus hit Georgia, several businesses were closed until late May, when Gov. Brian Kemp eased restrictions against bars and nightclubs and allowed them to re-open if they followed dozens of guidelines. Kemp has renewed his order on a public health state of emergency and provided additional guidelines for bars and other businesses where food is served.
"More people are going out to nightclubs and to restaurants to socialize," Moore said. "With that comes good people and people with guns."
(c)2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)