Nonprofit group seeks to keep Athens 'classic'


Dear fellow Athenians:

Our modest nonprofit, Athens Classic, Inc., is making some inroads and gaining attention. But frankly, not as much as we may need, to keep our Classic City, classic.

In case you are not already aware, our capital city is under assault. Violent crime in Atlanta is at a nearly 30-year high. Property crime is soaring, ranging from auto theft to home burglaries and brazen theft directly off shoppers during this struggling retail environment. There are many reasons for all of this according to many, but the reality is quite stark. As of Christmas weekend, Atlanta witnessed the 155th murder of 2020, a 16-year old young woman, shot dead in the beautiful and legendary Hyatt Regency Hotel, by another teenager she knew. And less than a week prior, a 7-year old child, riding in her mother's car, was shot and killed while her mother was finishing up Christmas shopping at Phipps Plaza. While crime and death by gunshot are no more or less offensive based on where it happens or who it happens to...this is no longer a situation driven solely by gang activity or out-of-hand crime in challenged inner-city neighborhoods.

And our Athens is just an hour's drive away. Crime doesn't know city limits. But criminals do pay attention to area police departments, how state laws and local ordinances are enforced, and their likelihood of being locked up, or even charged with a felony offense, which for most can be life-altering. Atlanta's 155 murders during 2020 put it on par, per capita, with Chicago, America's murder capital. Ask friends who live near or within an hour of the Windy City, and you will often hear that crime and violence is now reaching out into their suburbs.

We began Athens Classic, Inc., an independent, non-partisan community organization, now with a Facebook group of more than 500, a few hundred on our regular mailing list, and several dozen attendees at our monthly membership meetings or Coffee with Cops community conversations, in large measure to prevent these trends from taking root here in our Classic City. Admittedly, largely due to indifference and apparent apathy among Athens voters, a very consequential runoff election for District Attorney was largely ignored by 80 percent of Athens-Clarke County voters on Tuesday, December 3, 2020.

This is a slippery slope, and we are currently not on the winning side. Our recent meetings and communications with our Mayor, particularly related to what we see as a flawed Police Advisory Development Task Force indicate that this dialogue is being won by louder and discontented voices, some of whom rightly are concerned about prior wrong actions by police agencies (though predominantly not in Athens, GA). As business people, we understand the need to please all potential customers, and to live in a collegial community and letting others live and let live...but the direction in which we are heading quite frankly is more likely to cause businesses and perhaps residents grave harm, injury or potentially death from increasingly violent crime. And we now know that our highly decorated and experienced Chief of Police may be seeking opportunity in other cities where his expertise and approach to policing is better appreciated.

And though we have received some strong support from Bulldog Nation, rank and file Athenians to date have largely checked in with an 'attaboy' Email, text, phone call or socially distant smile and salute, as their contributions towards our cause. I'm not a defeatist, nor a quitter, but that won't get us where we need to go, nor even HOLD the ground which we presently occupy.

And in case you do not see any great need for our efforts, here is some instructive language from an operating memo to all staff of the Western Judicial Circuit, District Attorney’s Office, distributed on her first day in office by our new D.A. Deborah Gonzalez, page 1, paragraph 4 (of 7 pages)–

“We will continue to develop alternatives to incarceration, alternatives to probation, alternatives to sentencing, and alternatives to conviction. We will decline to prosecute where we find it is not in the interest of justice to do so, and we will seek non-incarceration sentences before we determine that, in a given case, incarceration is the only appropriate sentence, always aware that incarceration is, by definition, destructive of personal integrity and human potential, destructive of families and communities, inefficient and vastly more expensive than other paths.”

God forbid that you, a friend or a family member become a victim of violent crime, but in an election where 80 percent of Athens voters chose to sit on the sidelines, the office in charge of the adjudication, disposition, as well as prosecution of all felony crimes is apparently taking conviction, sentencing, incarceration and probation off the table.

Like many of you, we have businesses to run, other nonprofits and charities to support, and here or elsewhere, certainly easier tasks and more pleasant ways to spend our time. But all of our sleeves are rolled up. Charlie Upchurch, Gordon Rhoden, John Alexander, Bryan Austin, Danielle Benson, Travis Butler, Ricky Chastain, Steve Everett, Brian Griffith, Carl Nichols, Paul Weir, and many others of us are all in. But we are past time in attempting with only a handful of folks putting in all the time, funds and effort.

We look very much forward to hearing from you soon. Checks may be made payable to Athens Classic, Inc., P.O. Box 225, Athens, GA 30603, or via PayPal at athensclassicinc@gmail.com, please select the 'making a payment to a friend' option to avoid the 3 percent surcharge on your transaction. We hope that you are willing to help in whatever fashion you can, as well as encourage others to do the same. Either way, we wish you and your family a blessed New Year in 2021.

Steve Middlebrooks

Gordon Rhoden

Charlie Upchurch

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