Race bubbles to the surface as Decatur crime woes persist

DecPoliceDecatur has been having a rough couple of weeks.

In the wake of a juvenile crime spree that began just before the holiday weekend, questions have been asked as to the cause of such nefarious activities. Decatur residents have taken to message boards, discussing the need for increased police presence and a sentiment of defeat at the likelihood that any detention will deter the juveniles from crime for very long.

A controversial local historian, David Rotenstein, recently wrote about the erasure of African-American history in Decatur through the dismantling of the Beacon Community, and an apparent oversight by the city to include any mention of African-Americans in its gentrified historical preservation efforts. Rotenstein makes a pretty compelling case for not just an oversight, but a willful attempt at dissolving the African-American presence in Decatur through white-out and a demolition of historically valuable equalization schools.

Rotenstein even petitioned the city to stop demolition and apologize to its residents. According to Rotenstein, the elderly are inundated with offers to buy their family homes (at arguably profitable rates, considering many of the homes being bought and demolished were once ‘dollar homes’ purchased through the Urban Homestead Project).

He even cited another white guy, Dr. Thomas King, to back up his what the fuck? moment after reviewing Decatur’s “Historic Resource Survey Final Report.” King replied to Rotenstein after reading the report himself:

… my older sister, who actually remembers Decatur in the late 1930s/early 1940s, tells me of a neighborhood in which African-American families were concentrated. I imagine this neighborhood lost its distinctive character – for better or worse – during the social changes of the mid-late 20th century, but I have to wonder where it was, what surviving properties might be associated with it, and what cultural significance they may retain for Decatur’s African-American residents – who I cannot believe do not exist, despite their total invisibility in the “Final Report.”

But why does this report really even matter much? Because it was commissioned to help the City of Decatur win a $10,000 federal Historic Preservation Fund grant.

Decatur’s not “preserving” anything. Unless of course they subscribe to the idea that cosmetic surgery is “preservation” (and probably should be funded by taxpayer money also!) Rotenstein has documented the federally funded face-lift on his site after his petition for a demolition moratorium failed.

But Rotenstein hasn’t been so well-received by Decaturites. It appears a number of local message boards were inflamed with discussion about the old scabs he ripped off in his historical preservation crusade.

In a 2012 article in Atlanta Magazine alluding to Decatur’s high brow image, Rotenstein’s “blog wars” are referenced as “sort of polite.” But the responses to the author’s post belied an undercurrent of exhaustion over a heated social battle that seems to have been raging since 2002.

“The historic preservation war goes back more than five years and much of the vitriol that was posted in sweet little Decatur back then has been scrubbed from the internet. Before David arrived on the scene,” said PrueD. in a comment on the Atlanta Magazine article.

Too bad Rotenstein took the horse and ran with it, as SophieS_4820 accuses him:

While I don’t doubt you started out with good intentions, your “raising awareness” quickly devolved into hyperbolic rants about what you perceived as the wholescale destruction of a neighborhood you’d only lived in for less than a year. You revived old feuds & tore the scabs off old wounds from the 2007 Oakhurst historic district debate, and insisted that each and every teardown was being replaced with a “McMansion”, nevermind that most of said new dwellings were less than 2,700 square feet (really?? On what planet are “mansions” 2,700 sq. ft. & less???). When it was suggested that you could perhaps get more people to listen to your points by not pouring it on so thick, and making people feel attacked, you began to play the misunderstood victim. Some people, true, did sink into puerility in responding to you, and there’s no excuse for that. You, however, failed dismally to maintain the high ground in this debacle: you violated the privacy of people who NEVER harmed you in way, shape, or form; you literally stalked one of the architects whose houses you so opposed; you denigrated anyone who disagreed with you, eventually casting aspersions on an entire city because you got your little feelings hurt.

Regardless of how much of a whacko some people think he is, Rotenstein draws a point: why is Decatur’s voice decidedly one-sided? Why would a historical preservation report that garnered $10K in federal funding be used to demolish and erase what was once known as the African-American community, as Rotenstein alleges? Why isn’t the African-American community in Decatur being heard from?

Decatur’s crime problem isn’t getting any better. Just this past Saturday, a woman was robbed by “two black males” at an office on New Street. The suspects were again described as teens, but it’s uncertain if they’re involved with the current juveniles being held for the first wave of recent crimes.And although WSB-TV highlighted the helpfulness of two regular working guys in keeping their city safe, “being in fashion” worked against another carjacker in Clayton County — and apparently had to be the highlight of the story. Nevermind the $200 million missing in East Point.

Decatur’s crime problem isn’t getting any better, and neither is its race problem. If anything, the recent crime epidemic is bringing to the forefront issues of race that have for too long been suppressed.

Morgan Mornet

Morgan is a magna cum laude graduate of Georgia State University's journalism program with a focus on public relations and a minor in English. Good thing she also decided to take lots of news and media writing electives along with a study abroad trip to Istanbul, Turkey that focused on media, business and journalism in a global context because it turns out she loves reading news, advocating for progressive civil rights and then telling other people about it. She covers "hard" local and associated news stories in the South for Biscuette, freelances and assists with media analysis and relations at an Atlanta-based international non-profit. 

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