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Bryan Cronan

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The Homicide Report

Just how safe is Atlanta? 
Here is a list of the most dangerous big cities (over 200,000 in population) compiled by Law Street Media. The analysis, released last November, compared cities according to their rates of violent crime in 2012—murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Data came from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.

1.  Detroit
2.  Oakland
3.  St. Louis
4.   Memphis
5.   Stockton, California
6.   Birmingham
7.   Baltimore
8.   Cleveland
9.   Atlanta
10.  Milwaukee

Law Street Media released an update to its list in February, using FBI stats from the first half of 2013. Compared with the same period in 2012, violent crime in Atlanta was down 9.75 percent, thanks to drops in rapes, murders, and aggravated assaults. Robberies, however, were up 11.23 percent in the first six months of 2013, compared with the year before. In 1960, when the city’s population was 487,000, the homicide rate was low. Rates peaked in 1990 (reflecting national trends), when population had dropped to 394,000. Today, homicides are falling and the population is increasing (444,000 in 2012). 

     
 


From the police reports 
> In early May,
a couple was returning home after eating at a fast-food restaurant. “Several black males exited a vehicle on Lowe Street and approached them with guns drawn. They robbed the victims outside, and then ordered the victims into the house. As they entered the house, the male victim began to fight with the robbers. One of the robbers fired his weapon several times.” The man died of the gunshot wounds.

> According to eyewitnesses, on Sunday, December 1, Marilyn Taylor-Redding was walking down Gartrell Street in the Old Fourth Ward when Alex Mason, who was in his silver PT Cruiser, revved the engine, “put the vehicle in drive, jumped the curb, and ran Ms. Taylor-Redding over, causing her death.” Neighbors grabbed Mason and held him until police arrived.

> Officers arrived at Magic City, a club on Forsyth Street, to find two men shot right after “a large fight between 20 to 30 people occurred inside the club. After the fight, a large group of people were escorted outside of Magic City. The two victims exited the club at this time and proceeded to their vehicle. They began to drive off when someone suddenly fired into the driver-side window, striking both.” 

 



By the numbers
65

Number of 2013’s 84 cases in which a suspect had been charged by the year’s end.   
10
Number of homicides in November 2013, the month with the highest number. The lowest: March, with three.   
84
The age of the oldest victim, who was stabbed to death by her husband in an attempted murder-suicide. 
1/1/2013 
Date of the year’s first homicide. Jared Billings was shot and killed on New Year’s Day. The last homicide of the year was the death of Amin Bouchelaghem, who was killed December 30.

Billboards advertise a $25,000 reward for tips in Cotrona case

After East Atlanta Village resident Patrick Cotrona was fatally shot last May, his sister Kate Cotrona Krumm drew attention to his case by posting a poignant hand-lettered sign on a telephone pole near the spot where her brother died. Block letters on a big sheet of cardboard paid tribute to a “brother and a kind and loving son and uncle and friend,” a Georgia Tech grad and computer engineer who “loved video games and beer.”

On Thursday afternoon, Krumm unveiled another sign—a massive billboard advertising a $25,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest of two people suspected in the death of her brother.

“Our hope is that somebody will see the billboard and come forward with some information that will lead to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for killing my brother,” said Krumm, addressing a press conference held on Candler Road in East Lake.

Cotrona was killed walking home with two friends from a bar in East Atlanta Village on May 25, 2013. A man approached the trio demanding money. While Cotrona was reaching for his wallet, the suspect shot him in the abdomen. Another person was shot in the leg, but survived the injury.

After leads in the case led to dead ends, the Cotrona family decided to advertise the reward. Through an online fundraising campaign, they were able to secure enough money to buy space on seven billboards around East Atlanta. The billboards show the police sketches of the suspects.

Atlanta Police Captain Paul Guerrucci said APD would immediately check into any tips that come in.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477.

K. Rashid Nuri

The older man steps out of a gray Chrysler Grand Voyager. He wears a tan fisherman’s cap and a brown tee topped with a plaid workshirt. People chat as they fill baskets with carrots, chard, kale, collards, lettuce, onions, cabbage, and mustard. The man briskly moves from person to person, hearing the day’s news or making sure necessary tasks are completed. He stoops to take a quick check of the soil. Feels it run through his hands. Almost everything is planted in raised beds; concrete makes it impossible to plant directly into the ground.

Meet K. Rashid Nuri, one of the country’s foremost minds on urban farming. Former appointee to the United States Department of Agriculture, Nuri is a lover of jazz, expert on lunar cycles, and creator of the nonprofit Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. His urban farms bring fresh food to areas of Atlanta where rubble, history, and poverty are cross-pollinated.

The sun beams down, making it hard to see Wheat Street Baptist and historic Ebenezer looming over this farm as weighty reminders of what once was. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife lie in eternal rest a few blocks east. Interstates 75 and 85 cross historic Auburn Avenue to the west. The Old Fourth Ward, the neighborhood that surrounds Nuri’s Wheat Street Garden farm, is rich in history but bereft of basic services. It is a food desert, designated by the USDA as an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly an area composed of predominantly low-income neighborhoods. The 700-plus-acre Old Fourth Ward district is bounded by Ponce de Leon and Decatur/DeKalb to the north and south and the Connector/Piedmont and the BeltLine to the west and east. More than half of the residents are low income. The only nearby places to shop are gas station convenience stores or small markets. Sure, just outside the O4W borders, there’s a Publix on Piedmont, a Kroger on Ponce de Leon, and the historic Sweet Auburn Curb Market on the other side of the Connector underpass. But because 75 percent of O4W residents do not own cars, those stores are not easily accessible. The nearby convenience stores carry Twinkies, Snickers, sodas, beer, and lottery tickets, but not much else. The Exxon station on Edgewood, the newest and nicest store around, has produce—if a handful of lemons, three black bananas, and two oranges can be called produce.

According to the USDA, lack of access to fruits and vegetables is contributing to health problems. Obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are rampant in food deserts, causing medical issues that add financial strain to already-tight budgets.

Nuri wants to make food available and, more importantly, educate people about where food comes from. This summer the farm held a camp. Four two-week sessions, at $365 each, taught kids about gardening, sustainability, and more. Through a partnership with the Year of Boulevard project (see page 91), scholarships went to dozens of children who live in nearby Section 8 housing. Throughout the year, schools and parents bring their city kids to the farm to see what a tomato or pea plant looks like.

A city kid himself, Nuri took awhile to find his calling as a farmer. He was born in Boston. His father was an educator; his mother, a community activist. Young Rashid wrote a paper for school on what he hoped to do with his life: He wanted to explore the world while merging science and politics. That curious intellect brought him to Harvard in 1966. The time was “crazy,” he recalls. African colonies were gaining their freedom and the civil rights movement was in upheaval. During his college years, Nuri met his future wife, whose parents took him to Wilson Farm, a 128-year-old farm just outside of Boston. It was there that ideas began to germinate. He imagined the possibilities and opportunities of urban agriculture, an unusual occupation for an Ivy Leaguer. Nuri realized Harvard could teach him how to be a doctor, lawyer, or businessman, but it couldn’t teach him how to farm. So, after graduating with a degree in political science, he began to think about ways to merge his field of study with farming. He went to the University of Massachusetts and earned a master’s in plant and soil sciences. Eventually he worked for Cargill, the international food producer and marketer. He traveled to thirty-five countries to develop food systems, including a 1987 stint in Nigeria where he ran thirteen cotton gins and traded maize, sugar gum, and native vegetables.

In the early 1990s, Nuri snagged an appointment as deputy administrator of the Farm Service Agency and Foreign Agricultural Service for the USDA. He worked in Washington, D.C., for four years during the Clinton administration.

In 2006 Nuri, with partners Eugene Cooke and Ernest Dunkley, came to Atlanta and started Truly Living Well. They began with an experimental plot in a Riverdale backyard, then expanded: a farm on Harbin Road in southwest Atlanta; one on Washington Road in East Point; and Good Shepherd Farm, in partnership with Good Shepherd Community Church, on Lawson Street in southwest Atlanta.

In 2010 Truly Living Well began looking for a fourth location and lucked onto the O4W lot, which is still owned by Wheat Street Baptist, the historic congregation known for a century and a half of activism. In December 2010, with the help of a $50,000 grant from the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, Wheat Street Garden was launched. The farm occupies a four-acre plot that previously housed another innovative project, Wheat Street’s low-income housing development built in partnership with the federal government in the 1960s.

The farm now yields thousands of pounds of fresh food annually. Some of that food is sold to local restaurants; during a recent visit, I watched chefs from the Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta shop for produce. Some is sold at the market held every Friday. Some is delivered to people who buy subscriptions to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Participants in the SNAP and WIC food programs can get produce at two-for-one prices.

Kwanza Hall, Atlanta city councilmember for District 2, lives in the area and shops at Wheat Street Garden. He says people cross racial, economic, and educational lines when they come together around the farm. “The farm is filling a huge void in our community,” says Hall, who believes the Old Fourth Ward, along with Truly Living Well, can become a national model for sustainably battling food deserts.

The farm is not just worthy; it’s beautiful. The verdurous beds contrast with the boarded-up buildings encircling them. Poblano peppers, Pension bush beans, kohlrabi, Nepal tomatoes, and a plethora of flowers flourish. Everything is symbiotic: Scraps enter vermicomposting bins. A colony of bees pollinates the plants and produces sweet honey. Chickens cluck while roaming a large wooden pen. All within a stone’s throw of Downtown.

Nuri has big dreams for the next five years. His goal is to extend Truly Living Well’s farms to forty acres throughout the city. He wants the farms to be educational tools, creating agricultural entrepreneurs who will start their own farms elsewhere, transforming blighted lots into oases of fresh food.

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.

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