Atlanta police officer Tom Gissler quit his job in protest against gentrification arrests when he said he learned that the Atlanta Police Department was working with local building developers to arrest and evict Black residents.
The 49-year-old Gissler, who is white, worked with the department for three years. Gissler described how he was instructed to heavily police an apartment complex in the city’s Old Fourth Ward section, where residents are predominantly Black, according to an essay in Mother Jones.
“On my beat, they started telling me, ‘We really want you to start policing this section of Boulevard and Ponce de Leon Avenue — basically the Bedford Pines Apartments,’” said Gissler, who left the department in July. He said his superiors told him to tow cars, run background checks and take people into custody, The Grio reported.
Gissler said he was told, “’We think there are dope boys in there. We think there’s a lot of illegal activity happening and we want to really focus there. So we’re gonna put up signs that say you can’t park on the street. I want you to go and write tickets on every single car that’s on the street and I want you to get those cars out of there. If they don’t move, tow ’em. I want you to start running checks on everybody standing on the street. If they have got warrants, I want you to lock ’em up.”
Gissler, who was himself a resident of the area, said he spoke to residents after receiving the explicit directives. What he learned from residents was that the owners of the complex allegedly wanted to tear down the building in alignment with gentrification plans for the area. The complex owners were apparently unable to price out residents by raising rents. Getting their tenants arrested was plan B, Gissler said he was told.
The first phase of an 80-unit senior housing development, City Lights, was built down the street from the Bedford Pine apartments in 2017, according to Curbed Atlanta. The apartments are still advertised on Apartmentfinder.com, Yahoo reported. Apartments are listed as starting at $1,000 and up. A second development — Station 464 — is under construction next to City Lights with 96 units for families.
Gentrification has long been a problem in Atlanta, but it has intensified in the last few years.
“A homeowner in the area was very frank with me,” Gissler said. “He said the guys who own Bedford Pines got their tax bill last year, and their taxes were assessed based on all the gentrification that’s happening in the area. And so they wanted to move everybody out of these apartments and knock ’em down and rebuild these nice expensive apartments and the government said no. And so then they said, ‘Well, that’s OK, we’ll just increase the rent.”
When the complex owners learned they could not raise rents on Section 8 housing residents, they realized “the only way to evict a person is if they were convicted of a felony, so the building’s owners allegedly enlisted the police for support in their displacement efforts,” The Grio reported.
Gissler said he could no longer work under these conditions. He said he had already made it clear that he would not “lock people up for minor drug stuff.” The experience opened his eyes to the realization that law enforcement is a “shitty Mafia system,” he said.
He added, “I’m not even a political activist. But something about that smacks of institutional racism, right? I mean, there wasn’t a white person in this whole complex. Most of the renters were single Black girls who are just trying to, you know, make their way in the world. There was something about that that made me think now, when I clock into work, I’m not doing any good. I’m actually doing harm.”
Gissler said claims of child abuse and animal abuse were made against him as retribution, Yahoo reported.
The Atlanta Police Department provided a statement to The Grio that the area near Bedford Pine apartments was targeted strictly for its escalating crime.
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“The 600 block of Parkway (near the apartment complex) has been an area well known for the sale of narcotics and other crime to include several shootings over the past year,” according to the statement. “Officers have been able to identify a lot of the vehicles parked in the roadway in front of the complex as a base of operation for the drug sales and other incidents. To combat this, APD in conjunction with the City of Atlanta designated the area a no-parking zone. Multiple ‘No Parking’ signs were put into place well in advance of any enforcement, with the date and time the new rules went into effect on each sign.”
The statement continued, “Only after this, were any parking tickets issued or any vehicles impounded. Additionally, we did partner with private security at the location to issue criminal trespass orders to non-residents that were suspected to be involved in the aforementioned crime. No orders to stop citizens and perform background checks for anyone standing on the sidewalks were given.”
Gissler said he has moved away from Atlanta.
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