The Dark Side of Atlanta

Atlanta is the capital of the South Eastern U.S. state of Georgia, and is also the most heavily populated city in the state. Founded in1837 at the intersection of two railroad lines Atlanta rose from the ashes of the American Civil War to become a national centre of commerce.

While generally considered more progressive than other cities in the Deep South, Atlanta has had its fair share of racial tensions. The Atlanta race riot of 1906, lasting between September the 22nd and September the 24th , is perhaps one of the most shocking instances. Following newspaper reports alleging that African American men in the city were responsible for raping four white women, racist mobs took to the street and lynched as many as a hundred men within that forty-eight hour period.

Atlanta was the birthplace of the 1960s American Civil Rights movement’s most recognizable leader: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The city was also home to the movement’s leading organizations, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, whose former chairman is long-time U.S. Representative John Lewis. In the 2010 Census, Atlanta was recorded as America’s fourth-largest majority-black city and has become known as a centre of African-American political power, education, and culture.

Following a period of sharp decline beginning in the 1970s and lasting almost up to the turn of the 21st century, the economy of the city – home to the Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines, and more than a thousand other multinational corporations – has gone from strength to strength in recent decades. Crime in Atlanta is, however, still a problem, remaining above the American national median as of 2015 with Violent Crime at 5,203 incidents per 100,000 of population.

With more than one-hundred active criminal gangs – including the infamous Sureños, Bloods, Gangster Disciples, Nortenos, Crips, Latin Kings, and 18th Street Gang – and serving as a major distribution hub for illegal methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin, Atlanta is a city with an undeniable dark side.

 

BRIAN GENE NICHOLS

One of the most startling series of crimes to take place in Atlanta in recent years was perpetrated by Brian Gene Nichols. On the 11th of March 2005 Brian Gene Nichols was standing trial for rape in the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. Nichols overpowered a sheriff's deputy while he was changing clothes, stealing her gun, and beating her into a coma. Nichols then made his way to the chambers of Judge Rowland Barnes who he fatally shot. Nichols also shot and killed court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, and Sergeant Hoyt Teasley while escaping from the courthouse. He car-jacked several vehicles during his dramatic escape which was featured on America's Most Wanted.

Nichols was arrested later that month and indicted in May by a Fulton County grand jury on fifty-four counts including murder, felony murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, theft, car-jacking, and escape from authorities. His defence pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but On December the 13th 2008, Nichols was sentenced to multiple life sentences with no chance of parole. Spared the death sentence, he is currently incarcerated at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison.

 

FULTON COUNTY JAIL

Being an inmate in Georia Diagnostic and Classification Prison is by no means a picnic, but fifty-six miles north of that facility is another with a reputation as one of America’s most dangerous prisons: Fulton County Jail. With rampant drug problems, a powerful gang population, and staff who have been accused of corruption, Fulton County Jail is home to more than 2,500 inmates making it one of the USA’s largest, and most overcrowded, prisons.

In August 2003 a small riot broke out in the prison following a football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys which was turned off before the end. At this time Fulton County Jail was so overcrowded that inmates slept on floors, there not being enough beds to accommodate them. It was not uncommon for raw sewage to flood cells, and some inmates could wander about freely because of faulty locks. Colonel Mark C. Adger took over as Chief Jailer in 2011 and slowly but surely has been working to get things back on track.

Nevertheless, things are so volatile in the prison that, as of 2015, Fulton has its own internal special operations team to quickly respond to violent, critical situations: the Direct Action Response Team, or DART for short. This month alone (April 2017) new inmate Raylon Lee Browning – accused of stabbing two people and shoot and killing an Atlanta attorney – had to be tasered by guards after he attacked a fellow prisoner.

Earlier this year Kenndric Roberts was arrested and imprisoned at Fulton County Jail on charges of false imprisonment and trafficking of persons after he was discovered keeping eight women captive in a million dollar mansion house. Human trafficking has long been a problem in Georgia and Atlanta is one of the fourteen U.S. cities with the highest levels of sex trafficking of children, often from Mexico.

 

Fulton County Jail is a place where the darkest parts of Altanta’s criminal underworld come to light; a place where many non gang members nevertheless find themselves pledging allegiance to one criminal fraternity or another. It has been said that much of the organised crime on the city’s streets has its roots within the walls of the prison itself. Serving time there is an ordeal like no other and those who survive their sentence intact nevertheless leave those walls a different person to the one they were when they entered.

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