As protests continue to take place in Atlanta and other cities nationwide in response to black individuals such as George Floyd dying at the hands of former and current police officers, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul is calling for togetherness.
“These past weeks and months have been the most challenging in my career with the COVID-19 crisis with the economy (quickly declining) and then the last week with a lot of (media) coverage about racism,” he said. “There’s genuine and justified cause for a (peaceful) response to these deaths, including George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and a long line of others.”
Paul, who was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, said he wants to keep racism out from Sandy Springs and beyond.
“I grew up in an area where racism was overt, discussed, with words used that are so bad I won’t mention them today,” he said. “It was America’s original sin and arrived with the first slave ship. Though it’s not as overt today and is a little more subtle, it doesn’t make it any less OK. People are saying enough is enough. We have an obligation to not just listen but ask (for solutions).”
Paul then mentioned a conversation he had with a prominent black man who said he’s treated well in Sandy Springs but not in all the other cities he’s been to.
“The distrust, the fear, the anger. It’s wearing. It wears you out,” he said the man told him. “That tells me a lot. … It’s something we need to deal with.”
While Sandy Springs was mostly spared of the looting that took place in Buckhead and other parts of the city of Atlanta, with only two businesses hit, it’s still a concern, the mayor said.
"That is just pure dastardly,” he said. “It overshadows and takes away from the genuine message protesters are giving on the street. I’m very concerned about that. While we’ll respond forcefully, we’ll not allow that happen to overshadow a much-needed conversation.”
Paul also said is sending local businesses, including houses of worship, a letter inviting them to “have meetings with small but diverse groups in the community.”
“We need to eradicate racism from our own community,” he said. “In these small group meetings, I want them to keep notes, write down concerns and send them to me at City Hall.”
Paul then said the council at its June 16 meeting is expected to vote on changing the name of Lake Forrest Drive, a street that runs from Powers Ferry Road in Buckhead to Mount Vernon Highway in Sandy Springs. It may have been named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general during the Civil War who also served as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
“Some believe it was named for (him). ... Some say it was not,” he said. "It doesn’t matter. We’re going to change the name.”