Atlanta Must Reads for the Week: A suicide attempt, state fossil oddities, and the Golden Sleaze awards

Plus, the protester who tried to grab Donald Trump’s microphone, ethical conflicts in the Georgia Capitol, and James Beard Award finalists
The Georgia Capitol, home of the legislative misdeeds

Courtesy State of Georgia

Kenneth R. Rosen in the Big Roundtable on his suicide attempt

After Rosen moved to Savannah, Georgia, he lost his way in life, and eventually decided to end it. In this story, he recounts in harrowing detail what led him to contemplate suicide, how he tried to carry it out, and what happened when a bullet went astray:

The Smith & Wesson SD40 VE low-capacity handgun looked slick on my coffee table, in my hand, anywhere I placed it in my little apartment in Savannah, Georgia. I let it hang at my side and stared into a mirror, one five-pound trigger pull away from being a killer, a protector, a hero, someone not to mess with. The weight, a pound and a half, traveled up my arm like an extension of my thoughts, an adjunct of power over everything and everyone, including, for once, myself.

I disassembled the weapon. The slide first, then the barrel and chamber with it; a magazine and a spring and the grip attached to the rail where the slide sat. How simple the construction, how basic the mechanics of death. I reassembled the gun and fanned two ten-round magazines across the table, loading one with a single gold and silver bullet. Another swig of bourbon to make the nerves go down. I closed my eyes and picked a magazine. The one with the bullet? Fifty-fifty chances to make things quick. The slicked magazine clicked and engaged with the latch inside the handle. The room went silent.

Read: Notes from my suicide

The 27th Annual Golden Sleaze Awards

Since the late 1980s, Creative Loafing has doled out its “Golden Sleaze Awards” to the lawmakers behind the Gold Dome’s worst misdeeds. They’re back once again to call out the official who failed to disclose payments for political consulting, the lawmaker who said LGBT people don’t need anti-discrimination laws because they’re used to bullying, and the legislator who said the KKK wasn’t all that racist:

THE “GOOD GUYS WEAR WHITE … ROBES WITH POINTY HATS” AWARD: Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, after introducing a trio of Dixie-licious bills including a constitutional amendment that would protect Stone Mountain’s carving of Confederate generals, took a detour into Angry White Man Land during an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Ku Klux Klan, Benton argued, “was not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order.” The staunch advocate for preserving shrines to the Confederacy such as the Gold Dome statue of racist former state senator Tom Watson didn’t disagree or agree with the KKK’s tactics, but he said the extremely racist group “made a lot of people straighten up.” Yes, we suppose that might have happened between the cross burnings, voter suppression, attacks, and lynchings. After being browbeat by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, Benton removed his name from the toxic bills, effectively killing them. He was sorry the comments distracted from the policies, but never apologized.

Read: The 27th Annual Golden Sleaze Awards

Aaron Gould Sheinin and James Salzer in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on ethical conflicts in the Georgia Capitol

As Georgia’s legislative session winds down, two of the AJC top Gold Dome watchdogs place a spotlight on what on happens when part-time legislators champion measures related to their full-time professions:

The General Assembly is made up of part-time politicians, people who otherwise are lawyers, pharmacists, engineers, insurance agents, funeral home directors, consultants, retirees and community activists who frequently bring their own agenda to the chambers of the House and Senate.

It’s a place where attorneys run committees deciding court issues, where insurance agents often dominate committees regulating their own industry, where the chairwoman of the Senate committee that dictates health policy is an executive of one of the state’s biggest health care contractors, and where legislators seldom worry about carrying legislation or seeking funding for their own industry.

Billions of dollars are at stake. The budget lawmakers approve each year tops $40 billion when state and federal funds are included. Thousands of businesses and professions are regulated, directly or indirectly, by the state and by what legislators decide on issues such as insurance agents’ commissions.

Read: Georgia legislators’ business interests, duties often get tangled

Ed Yong for the Atlantic on official state fossils

States have many official symbols: birds, fruits, gems, and songs. (Naturally, Georgia has a state possum.) The vast majority of states even has an official “fossil” that pays tribute a local creature that once had walked, flown, or swam inside their borders. Yong offers a brief history lesson, noting that some make complete sense, while others—looking at you, Georgia—don’t:

Still, their choice makes loads of sense compared to Georgia, which picked the shark tooth. Not the tooth of any particular species or genus of shark, like the monstrous megalodon, as chosen by North Carolina. Nope, just a generic “shark tooth.” That’s like picking “dinosaur leg” as your state fossil, or “bird” as your state animal. It’s even worse because shark jaws are conveyor belts that continually jettison old teeth, and so fossil teeth are extremely common. Georgia is the kid that didn’t really understand the assignment. (Kentucky was even less specific when it chose brachiopods, a large group of animals that look like clams but aren’t; that’s like choosing “molluscs” or “back-boned animals”.)

At least Georgia and Kentucky are in the game. Seven states have so far failed to choose a state fossil altogether. It feels churlish to shame them, but let’s say that their names rhyme with Arkansas, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

Read: The Weird Stories Behind America’s Official State Fossils

George Chidi for the Guardian on the Atlantan who rushed Donald Trump’s stage

Last weekend Atlanta native Thomas DiMassimo rushed toward Trump during his rally in Dayton, Ohio, so that he could “bully the bully.” He never made it that far. After the Secret Service took him into custody, the Republican presidential candidate made an unfounded claim that he was connected to ISIS. Chidi spoke with DiMassimo, whose mom works at City Hall overseeing infrastructure projects, about why he chose to protest:

DiMassimo has been protesting since the seventh grade, he said: “I was a white kid in a predominantly black middle school [in Atlanta]. My father was a history teacher who gave me Alex Haley’s Malcolm X biography. That’s how I came to understand race issues.” Last year, he drew national attention while protesting at a rally held in support of the Confederate flag at Stone Mountain in Georgia. In the aftermath of the South Carolina church shooting, in which nine African American worshippers were killed by a white gunman, images of the protest went viral—including one in which a demonstrator with his hand on the butt of a pistol confronted DiMassimo at the top of the mountain.

The Black Lives Matter movement was represented among protesters at the postponed Trump rally in Chicago on Friday. As MSNBC host Rachel Maddow pointed out forcefully, recent Trump events have taken place in cities where African American men have been killed by police in cases that rose to national attention. DiMassimo said he did not claim formal membership of any activist group, but “with Donald Trump, the issue is so vast, I feel like every American regardless of race—a phrase I rarely use—has a right to say, ‘No, you will not be my president.’

Read: Donald Trump stage invader: ‘I have to bully the bully’

A pair of James Beard Award-nominated stories

Earlier this week, the James Beard Foundation unveiled its full list of finalists for awards this year. Of the categories honoring journalism, the Bitter Southerner received not one, but two nominations: Shane Mitchell’s story on learning to love grits and Wendell Brock’s profile of Atlanta Magazine food writer Christiane Lauterbach. Both are worth revisiting.

Read: Kiss My Grits

Read: Christiane Lauterbach: The Woman Who Ate Atlanta