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Families of Black people killed by police in Atlanta feel left behind. DA blames case backlog


By Nick Valencia, CNN

Through the crowd of lawyers and people on their way to court, 60-year-old Jimmy Hill walks the same downtown Atlanta street every week. He’s been doing this for the last three years to get justice for his son.

In January 2019, Hill’s son Jimmy Atchison was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer. Atchison was unarmed when he was shot in the face after a foot chase. For three years Atchison’s case has languished amidst the backlog of an estimated 11,000 cases in Fulton County caused in part by the Covid-19 pandemic.

With his son’s case still unresolved, Hill shows up every week, sometimes multiple days in the same week, to pass out fliers about his son’s death. And he makes sure to stand right below the office window of the one person he says has the power to do something: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

“I stand on the corner, and her window is right there, and I stand right there to make sure she sees me every day. And it’s not to prove a point to her because I’m going to fight anyway because that’s my son, and I love him,” he said.

An investigation by the previous administration at the Fulton County DA’s office found the shooting to be unjustified and recommended the officer who killed Atchison be charged with felony murder. The officer, who has since retired, said he thought Atchison was armed, but investigators later confirmed he wasn’t, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. Officers were pursuing Atchison at an apartment complex while trying to arrest him on a warrant.

Though Hill says Willis could have presented his son’s case to a grand jury “long ago,” Hill believes the DA is instead more focused on notoriety.

CNN reached out four times to the Fulton County DA’s office, but never heard back.

Shortly after taking office as the newly elected DA, Willis announced she would be opening an investigation into the alleged election meddling by former President Donald Trump.

“What about police brutality? Wrong is wrong, murder is murder, crime is crime, wrong is wrong no matter who does it,” Hill said.

A familiar pain

Hill’s pursuit of justice may not be getting the attention he wants from the DA’s office, but it has inspired others.

In the last two years, other Black families who have lost their children at the hands of police have joined the weekly demonstrations. They include parents like Anthony Boykins, whose 12-year-old was killed in a crash when a Georgia State Trooper executed a pit maneuver on the car in which his son was a passenger.

“To be honest, it’s heart aching, to have to even come out here and even ask for justice. You know what I mean. Because if I would have flipped that car with the officers’ kids in it, I would be in jail right now,” Boykins said.

The trooper involved in the incident, which happened in a neighboring county, returned to work, and the incident is pending litigation.

Standing next to Hill while holding a poster with his son’s face on it, Boykins said it is “encouraging” to be alongside families who are going through similar pain. Joining Hill and Boykins every week is Venithia Cook. Her 17-year-old was shot in the back twice by a police officer in Cobb County, Georgia, in 2020.

“I’ve been told several different stories by [the] police about what happened,” Cook told CNN. “The video speaks for itself. Two seconds after he jumped out the vehicle he was shot twice in the back. He never had a chance,” she said.

The officer who shot and killed her son was cleared of wrongdoing — but Cook said she will continue to show up to demonstrate every week. Just like for Boykins and Hill, for Cook showing up on a weekly basis is “therapy.”

“Some of these families are barely holding on to their sanity. People don’t understand what police brutality does to the family and the community. It challenges your mental health,” Hill told CNN.

A backlog of cases

In April, a letter sent by Willis to the President of the NAACP chapter of Georgia and reviewed by CNN said in addition to the backlog of 11,000 cases, there was also an estimated 55,000 cases that were not properly closed by the previous administration. The NAACP says it has not heard from the DA’s office.

“Our concern is if you’re going to prosecute without fear or favor, you need to go after law enforcement who violate the public trust with the same veracity that you’re going after rappers, artists, and potentially the former president of the United States,” Georgia NAACP Chapter President Gerald Griggs told CNN.

Griggs estimates there are “dozens” of Black families in Atlanta, just like Hill, who have not yet had their cases addressed by the DA’s office.

“She said that she expects to get through them all by the end of the year,” Griggs said, referencing what he has been told by the DA’s office. When asked if he believed it could be done, Griggs said, “We’ll see.”

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CNN’s Jade Gordon contributed to this report.

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