Privacy and Prejudice, by Michael King

A New Visions Commentary paper published December 1999 by The National Center

for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002,

202/543-4110, Fax 202/543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web Reprints permitted provided source

is credited.

When you think that you’ve heard everything, something else shows up on the table to go one better. Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell is upset with local media for breaking a story involving the Atlanta Police Department (APD) that hits him rather close to home.

There is a police car that always sits near the mayor’s residence on Atlanta’s East Side. This isn’t unusual – it is a standard security provision for most mayors of large cities nationwide. Recently, a car pulled into Mayor Campbell’s driveway. Campbell’s 15-year-old son, Billy, got out and went inside. As the car drove off, the police officer on the street ran the license plate number through the Department of Motor Vehicles computer system.

The DMV’s computer indicated that the car was stolen. An officer who heard the tag number called over the radio stopped the car nearby. The next morning, APD’s Zone 6 commander Major Carlos Banda issued a memo to the officers who patrol Hizzoner’s house that said, "Do not run tag checks on any cars going to his house or checks on anyone going to his house."

Mayor Campbell insists that his privacy is of "paramount importance," and said that he gave orders for this sort of security precaution to never happen again. Campbell also clamped down on any information related to the incident – forcing police to withhold the incident report from the tag check and stop, even though those reports are public information by state law. Billy Campbell and his friend insist that they had no idea that the car was stolen, and don’t know how the vehicle identification numbers of the car were altered.

Spokespersons for the APD have been ordered not to discuss the case by Hizzoner, so no one outside the police knows if the driver of the car was arrested or even detained. The mayor is livid. He wants the head of whoever broke the story in the local press. The police union is upset – and rightly so – because Campbell’s orders hamper their duties to protect him and his family, and challenges their professionalism.

Last time I checked, anyone in a stolen vehicle – driver and passengers are arrested on charges of possession of stolen property. And, as far as anyone knows, Billy Campbell certainly hasn’t been arrested.

And let’s look at the other point here. If the Drug Dealers Association of Atlanta decides to personally deliver a pizza to Hizzoner’s home, the police officers assigned to protect the mayor and his family can do nothing to them – by Campbell’s own orders.

As Campbell begins to take the national stage for an anticipated role in the Gore Administration (should Al Gore get that far), this case continues to present him in an unflattering light. Campbell’s track record has been to deny, deny, deny, followed by playing the race card. Oh, and if the antagonist is black, Campbell accuses them of "sleeping with the enemy." The December 6 issue of Time magazine includes comments by Hizzoner that refer to Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editor Cynthia Tucker as a "handkerchief-headed Negro" who has a "slave mentality" that makes her "more vicious than white journalists." Tucker’s perceived offense? Challenging the mayor on his "battle to the death" on the city’s affirmative action plan that is being challenged in court.

It looks like Mayor Bill Campbell, his family and friends are above the law. And he’ll use the Atlanta Police Department to make sure he remains that way.

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