One evening last fall I spent eight hours shadowing an Atlanta police officer during his evening shift in southwest Atlanta. Actually, it was a bit more than eight hours, because when you’re a cop, shifts don’t often end neatly at the top of the hour. In our case, a woman had reported her 12-year-old son missing—he’d left the house while his mother was at work and hadn’t told his older brother where he was going. Dad was out of the picture. Because it had been hours since anyone had seen the boy, the law demanded the police pull out all the stops—a mobile command unit, an infrared-equipped chopper in the air, a BOLO to every other officer around.
This was around 10 p.m., and the officer’s shift was, technically, supposed to end in an hour. It had been an eventful seven hours already. We’d been to a day-care center where a troubled eight-year-old foster child had been banging his head against a wall. While the grown-ups talked in the next room, he showed me the superheroes he’d been drawing. What else? My cop had negotiated a truce in a violent feud between a mother and her daughter; he’d searched in vain for the thief who stole an old man’s prescription at Walgreen’s; he was the first responder to a teenager who’d been shot in the backside in what we could only conclude was gang-related, since the kid didn’t say a word, even as he bled onto a neighbor’s couch. The gun unit arrived to search for shell casings in the gloomy parking lot near Campbellton Road where the kid had been shot. On the horizon, we could see the gleaming lights of downtown a few miles to the northeast. It might as well have been another planet.
As for the missing boy, another cop spotted him walking casually down a dark street with a friend. We raced over and the officer I was with jumped out of his car and started lecturing the kid. “Where you been? You know how many people have been looking for you? You leave your house without telling anyone? What’s your problem?” The kid stared ahead, like the cop wasn’t even there.
The ride-along was part of Leadership Atlanta’s class of 2017, of which I was a member. Over eight months, I and 80 of my classmates assembled once a month for an entire day to do a deep dive into a different topic. Criminal justice. Race. Education. Public health. The idea behind Leadership Atlanta is simple: Assemble influencers from different fields, and show them how the city really works. But the exercise is more than academic. As our eight months wound down, guest speakers—judges, professors, doctors, politicians—would ask us, “Okay, now you know the problem. So what are you going to do about it?”
It was spring. For the first time in 24 years, Atlanta magazine was under new ownership. At one point it dawned on me that I was mapping out stories for my 100th issue as editor-in-chief. For eight-plus years, I’d been editing stories by other writers, whom I was envying more and more. Leadership Atlanta had reintroduced me to the city I thought I knew, and now I wanted to tell some of those stories myself.
Atlanta’s at an inflection point. We have the BeltLine, we have a booming economy, we have a new stadium. But we also have the worst economic mobility of any city in America. We have skyrocketing housing costs. We have a pipeline from our schools to our prisons that needs to be redirected. How, and whether, we resolve these tensions will determine the city we’ll be.
I’m burying the lede. This issue marks my final issue as editor-in-chief of Atlanta magazine. Betsy Riley, who’s been with the magazine for 15 years, most recently as editor of our quarterly HOME magazine, will be taking over for me, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store. As for me, I’m not going far—about 15 feet to my left, to be precise. When you read this, I’ll be the magazine’s executive editor, responsible for editing and writing the longform stories that appear in each issue, the stories that crack the code of this city, that help us see it in new ways.
This article originally appeared in our September 2017 issue.