Inside City Hall: Atlanta mourns fatal shooting of 12-year-old Zyion Charles

A weekly roundup of the most important things you need to know about Atlanta City Hall.

The mother and grandmother of Zyion Charles, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot near Atlantic Station Saturday after Thanksgiving, tearfully told city councilmembers they’ve repeatedly called for law enforcement to intervene as older men encouraged him to attempt car break-ins.

Deerica Charles said Zyion changed when she stopped treating his mental illness after his allergic reaction to the medication. Zyion’s grandmother said several youth ages 17 and 18 made him participate, even after she asked their parents to intervene. Zyion’s relatives said they begged police 30 times in the last two years to arrest him, but they said they couldn’t intervene unless he hurt someone.

“I cried out for help,” Charles told the Atlanta City Council public safety committee on Monday. “I cried out for it. I promise y’all, I cried out for it.”

Five others under 18 were also injured during the shooting, which prompted city leaders — including Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and police Chief Darin Schierbaum — to implore for help from parents and other citizens in fighting gun violence.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Sean Waites is creating legislation for a 7 p.m. youth curfew. Deputy Police Chief Timothy Peek said parents receive citations when their children violate curfew. When parents can’t be found, Peek said they either keep kids in police cars or try to take them to court.

“Help these young boys because I don’t have a chance anymore,” Deerica Charles said Monday.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond said they need to speak with different agencies to extend the time when recreational centers and schools are open. Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet said their 911 operations need more access to cameras on private property. Councilwoman Mary Norwood said they need to revise the juvenile system and hold youth organizations accountable if they receive city funds.

Although Saturday’s shooting didn’t take place on Atlantic Station property, it was close to the upscale district, where two unrelated shootings were reported last month. In both of those shootings, victims were not caught in the crossfire and were not intended targets. Atlantic Station had increased security to combat the crime just in time for the holiday season.

Saturday evening, a group of children and teenagers were escorted out of Atlantic Station, several hours after the retail and residential district’s 3 p.m. curfew, according to Atlanta police. Moments later, shots were fired on the 17th Street bridge, killing Zyion and injuring five others, all under the age of 18.

Councilwoman Andre Boone suggested use of the “scared straight” concept where juveniles visit jail to meet criminals as a deterrent for bad behavior. Councilman Byron Amos said the city as a whole needs to intervene to keep children safe.

Durden told council members Zyion was asleep when she left her home on Saturday. When she returned, he was gone.

“Then we got the call that he was dead,” Durden said.

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Atlanta’s lawmakers want more information about local incarceration as the city detention center begins to lease 700 beds to Fulton County to alleviate its jail overcrowding. The council can’t stop the lease, but some councilmembers are still seeking ways to remove some people from jail.

Councilwoman Waites said she wants to know about Fulton jail’s staffing issues. She asked for information about the jail’s mentally ill population after a mentally ill inmate died at the jail last week. She also wants to know how many inmates endured lice outbreaks and other infestations amid reports about lice and malnourishment at Fulton’s jail.

Additionally, Waites wants to know how many Fulton detainees have monkeypox and the coronavirus. Finally, she wants info on the number of violent incidents involving inmates.

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In case you missed it: Atlanta Housing Commission Chair Andy Schneggenburger told councilmembers two weeks ago that they should deploy the city’s new affordable housing trust fund as grants or equity. He then said they need to prioritize those funds for households earning up to 50% of the area median income, which is $48,200 for a family of four.

He also urged them to find ways to put $100 million into the fund. He said plans to put $10 to $15 million into the fund annually is “wholly inadequate.”

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A new report from the mayor’s office found that Atlanta’s Summer Youth Employment Program placed 3,007 youth ages 14-24 into paid employment and internship roles in 93 worksites citywide. Ultimately, the city paid more than $1.4 million to these participants, while the participating businesses paid the youth more than $2.5 million.

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Finally, city council is reviewing several new pieces of legislation, including an ordinance to create the mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience. The council is also considering a $4.5 million investment into Atlanta’s faith-based affordable housing initiative. Additionally, the city might donate $600,000 in Housing Trust Funds to cover utilities for Forest Cove residents.

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