Atlanta Mayor and former judge Keisha Lance Bottoms knows what it is like to have the police come to your home, tear everything apart, including your box of toys, and watch your father be taken away, hands cuffed behind his back.
When that happened, during her childhood, police ordered 8-year-old Bottoms and her two older siblings to sit on the sofa and not move. Even after the officers left, Bottoms stayed put for hours, afraid of trouble if she moved.
That traumatic experience, friends say, helps explain how she makes tough decisions as a mayor to address unrest over police violence and discuss the issues in an empathetic way that has resonated across the country.
Atlanta’s 60th mayor – and only the second African American woman to serve in that role – has emerged as a leading figure amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“Her life experience is a uniquely African American experience,” said friend and fellow mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, S.C., “that of a woman to whom nothing was given.”
Nearly three weeks after Floyd's death, the anguish over a police killing repeated itself in Atlanta when Rayshard Brooks was shot Friday outside a Wendy's after officers responded to a call about him being asleep in his car in the drive-through lane.
Bottoms quickly fired the police officer who shot Brooks, and the incident led to the resignation of Police Chief Erika Shields, a Bottoms ally who will remain in the department.
“Up until Friday, I thought we were doing it right,” Bottoms said on CNN Sunday. “People are looking to us to lead, but when these things continue to happen over and over again, we're asking ourselves the same questions. How do we lead during this time?”
On Monday, following the shooting, she decided not to wait for recommendations from the advisory panel she recently created on use-of-force policies and unveiled several executive orders. At a news conference carried live on cable television, Bottoms said she would require Atlanta police officers to employ de-escalation techniques during confrontations, report all use of deadly force to the city’s citizen review board and intervene to prevent the use of excessive force by fellow officers.
"There is a fierce urgency of now in our communities," she said, quoting one SIDEBARof the city's favorite sons, Martin Luther King Jr. "It is clear we do not have another day, another minute... to waste."
SIDE BAR: During her years running the city, Bottoms created Atlanta’s first fully staffed Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, blocked the city jail from housing federal immigrant detainees and established a website aimed at sharing key financial information such as city budget, expenses and vendors.
She also ended cash bail bonds. “If you get stopped for a traffic ticket and you don’t have $200 to pay, you don’t stay in jail simply because you are poor,” she said.