Why Does Atlanta Really Want To “Light Up” Black Neighborhoods?

turned on post lamp beside a tree
Zain Murdock
June 6, 2024

When Keisha Lance Bottoms left the mayor’s office, she left a plan for Atlanta's new Light Up The Night initiative. It allegedly aims to prevent traffic accidents, protect pedestrians, decrease crime by as much as 20%, and save energy by replacing and installing thousands of LED lights. But the greater context should be illuminated here, too.

We also have to question where this light comes from. Half of the partnership bringing it to life is Georgia Power — an electricity provider with its own anti-Black history, ranging from worker pay gaps and nooses on company property to overcharging Black customers. This record cannot be separated from the context of anti-Black surveillance.

"Criminals like to hide out in the dark," claimed Mayor Andre Dickens. But this idea isn’t new. For generations, Black people have been targeted by lantern laws, and now with their modern equivalents of camera surveillance, AI, and stop-and-frisk. Atlanta has the most cameras per resident in the country, enabled by a network of cops and corporations called Operation Shield.

Atlanta residents are still fighting Cop City. And from New Orleans to Detroit, community members have pushed back against surveillance technology, the next step to identify well-lit Black faces.

Our communities deserve better lighting. We deserve safety. But the state has consistently defined safety in terms of more policing. Initiatives like Light Up The Night tell us that we can’t have well-lit communities without criminalization, incarceration, and invasions of privacy. But that isn’t true.