In 2020 the headlines were overflowing in the metro Atlanta area, but 10 stories stood out, in no particular order:
The COVID-19 outbreak changed everything for metro Atlantans and everyone else around the world. When it hit the metro area in March, schools and businesses temporarily closed, and countless events were cancelled, postponed or shifted online. Words and phrases like “pandemic,” “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” “COVID test,” “personal protective equipment (PPE)” and “Zoom” became commonplace.
While some restaurants and other businesses reopened after the pandemic started, once the governor’s orders to keep them closed were lifted, not all have survived. Locally, Heritage Sandy Springs, a nonprofit that promotes history in the community, closed and ceded ownership to the city of Sandy Springs in April.
Sports were also impacted, with the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four at Mercedes-Benz Stadium being cancelled and all spring high school athletics in Georgia also axed. The fall high school seasons went on as planned, except football was delayed by two weeks and countless games were cancelled or postponed due to the outbreak.
But the pandemic provided a way for residents to help others through acts of kindness such as donating meals or PPE to hospital workers on the front lines. Also, some businesses pivoted to make masks or other items when there was a shortage on them.
Due to the pandemic, the presidential primary election was postponed from March 24 and then it, along with the remaining primary elections, was delayed from May 19 to June 9.
Online vs. in person
All local schools and school districts closed their campuses and shifted to online classes in March, and finished the 2019-20 academic year in that mode. But when the new school year started in August, schools took a varied approach to learning.
Most, if not all of the local private schools opened the year with in-person instruction or a hybrid approach in which some students would take online classes while others would have face-to-face ones on certain days.
But the debate over online vs. in-person learning raged on as the Atlanta Public Schools district opted to start the school year Aug. 24, two weeks later than originally planned, and with nine weeks of online classes. When that period ended, the district, citing a rise in COVID-19 cases, decided to stick with virtual learning for the rest of the year, a choice met with opposition from some parents and praise from teachers and other parents. Earlier this month the district announced it will return to in-person classes in phases starting Jan. 25.
Fulton County Schools took a different strategy on returning to in-person classes. It started the school year Aug. 17, a week later than originally planned, and with online instruction until Sept. 8, when it returned to in-person learning in a phased approach.
Since then the district has closed some schools for short periods of time when its students and/or staff tested positive for the coronavirus. As with the Atlanta district, Fulton’s parents and teachers are split on preferring online or in-person classes.
Earlier this month, the district announced all schools would shift to online classes Dec. 16 through 18 as it closed out the fall semester, with plans to return to stick with virtual learning during the first week in January before returning to in-person classes in a phased way starting Jan. 11.
Following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minnesota, the latest in a series of incidents where Black individuals died at the hands of white former or current police officers, Atlanta was one of countless cities nationwide that saw protests in late May and early June from those demanding social justice.
In Atlanta, riots, looting and violence erupted out of the protests, with several Buckhead businesses being vandalized and/or looted. In early June a group of students demanding social justice marched in protest from the corner of West Paces Ferry Road and Northside Parkway in Buckhead to the Governor's Mansion.
The situation was exacerbated June 12, when Rayshard Brooks was killed by an Atlanta police officer after running following an altercation stemming from a DUI arrest.
That incident touched off more protests, riots and looting in the city, where the police force has dropped from about 2,000 officers during Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration to about 1,600 today.
Starting in the late spring, teenagers and youths were seen at intersections across Atlanta, including Buckhead, selling water bottles. Nicknamed the Bottle Boys, the males were seen as entrepreneurial by some and dangerous by others, especially when reports flooded social media and other channels about some boys getting too aggressive by stopping traffic, threatening drivers and even throwing items at cars.
In June and July, two boys were arrested for assaulting or threatening drivers and/or passengers in Buckhead, and a third teen is wanted in a shooting incident in the city’s southwest area. In videos posted to social media, some of the bottle boys have been shown throwing water bottles at cars.
In late July a woman posted a message on Facebook saying when her car was at the Peachtree-Piedmont Road intersection in Buckhead, some boys asked if she wanted to buy water bottles. When she said no and showed them she already had some, about a dozen boys ages 14 to 21 banged on her windows, cursed at her, demanded she give them her money and even stood in front of her car before she was able to drive off.
Illegal street racing
Illegal street racing remained a problem throughout the year in the city of Atlanta, though it’s also been reported in other cities. Countless times residents have reported street racers tying up traffic on major thoroughfares and even interstates such as the Downtown Connector.
In May the Atlanta Police arrested 44 individuals and impounded 29 cars in a street-racing bust, and they’ve made similar arrests since then, including a recent one, but the problem persists.
The Atlanta City Council has made some strides. In August it approved penalties for street racing non-driver participants, and this fall Councilman Antonio Brown said he is in talks with the street racers to see if they can find a commercial or industrial area where they can race safely without disturbing neighbors.
A committee comprised of 11 local organizations has launched the Buckhead Security Plan, which will include off-duty police officers patrolling the community’s commercial district to augment the police’s own patrols. The plan, also known as Buckhead Blue, was created in part to combat illegal street racing.
In the June 9 primary election, Fulton County drew national attention for the wrong reasons when residents waited in line up to five hours to cast their ballots, due to delays caused by malfunctioning voting machines and other issues, including short-staffed polling precincts.
County elections officials vowed to learn from their mistakes by adding more poll locations and workers in future elections, and so far the move has paid off with smoother in-person elections since then.
In the Aug. 11 Democratic primary election runoff, residents calling for changes to the Fulton County justice system got their wish when Pat Labat defeated Ted Jackson in the sheriff’s race and Fani Willis beat Paul Howard in the district attorney’s campaign. With little or no contested Republican races on both the June 9 and Aug. 11 elections, Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods chair Mary Norwood called on the GOP to vote in the Democratic primary to help influence the vote.
When Fulton County received $104 million from the federal government as its share of the state’s allocation of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, it originally allocated only $2.5 million to 14 of the county’s 15 cities (Atlanta received its own funds, $88 million, directly from the feds).
The cities cried foul, saying they were each owed $174.79 per resident, based on a formula given by the state and/or feds. The cities’ mayors even threatened to sue the county over the issue, and with the suit looming, the Fulton Board of Commissioners at first allocated a total of $15 million and then doubled it to $30 million, with $5 million spent on PPE.
However, that was well below the 70% of the $104 million the cities had hoped to received. For example, Sandy Springs only got $4.56 million.
Blue wave continues
In the Nov. 3 general election, the blue wave of Democrats winning long-held Republican seats locally that started in 2018 continued, with Joe Biden beating Donald Trump in the presidential race. In Georgia, the election drew a record nearly 5 million votes.
Biden held a 14,000-vote lead until the first of two recounts, a hand recount/audit of the state’s ballots completed Nov. 18, determined more than 5,000 votes combined in Douglas, Fayette, Floyd and Walton counties were found to have not been counted, with most of those for Trump.
After a second recount, which was allowed by state law since Trump, a Republican, lost by 0.5% of the vote or less, Biden won by 12,670 votes, according to the secretary of state’s website.
Locally, though the state Legislature held its majority control in the House and Senate, the District 52 House seat flipped blue when Democrat Shea Roberts edged Republican Deb Silcox. The district had been held by a GOP member for decades.
Election fever didn’t stop even after Biden was declared the victor in the presidential race both locally and nationally. Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs in the Jan. 5 runoff election, where local resident Kelly Loeffler and fellow Republican David Perdue are facing Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively.
With party control of the Senate on the line, the election is expected to shatter records in terms of campaign spending and turnout. National politicians and celebrities have descended on the state to stump for one party or another.