Atlanta’s attitude toward Murder Kroger is like Musical Chairs. Most folks have a fine time running around laughing about it until suddenly the music stops, and we all get quite serious in hopes of a place to land. This Tuesday, the music stopped again. If I use my chair for standing on, I hope you’ll forgive me.
I won’t pretend to have any updates on the investigation of Tuesday’s murder at the Kroger at 725 Ponce de Leon Ave. Check out Creative Loafing and the AJC for that information. I also won’t comment on the terrible irony that one of the men charged with doing the construction to improve this particular Kroger became its legacy’s latest victim. A man is dead. He was a father of four in his late thirties. There is nothing ironic about any of this.
There’s also nothing funny about jokes on how Murder Kroger lived up to its nickname or whatever other blasted thing people are saying about this event. But then, it’s not for me to say what’s funny. Hell, I know the nickname came about as our way to cope with some harsh realities through dark humor in the first place. There’s nothing implicitly wrong with that, but let’s keep some perspective, yeah?
The second most obvious thing to do, besides joking, would be to use this horrible event as an excuse to hop on the soapbox to grandstand about crime stats or force some other policy-driven agenda down readers’ throats. I don’t want to do that either. What I do want to do is talk about the way we talk about our city.
Just a few months ago, in late November, the dear old Internet was abuzz with talk of the BeltLine Kroger rebranding. The coverage ran from thoughtful to satirical. Every PR move meant to ease the transition into BeltLine Kroger only seemed to backfire.
Around that time—just a week or so after launching this website, in fact—we joined in the chorus as well. I remember because the article began with “Murder Kroger? BeltLine Kroger? Who gives a shit?” (The salad days were such a simpler time.) The writer was Tom Donoghue, and the piece combined both nostalgia and caution.
Tommy wrote of “the badge of honor that a lot of us obtained through these years, the ‘I Made It!’ button that rests on our chests.” There is, albeit rarely, such a thing as good provincialism. But it’s one thing to be proud of surviving a bad neighborhood—as Tom was advocating—quite another to be proud of how bad the neighborhood is in itself.
Being proud of people getting murdered is savage. Being proud of an area where people notoriously get murdered is just sheer idiocy. It doesn’t give anyone “street cred,” and it sure as hell doesn’t make anyone look any tougher. It’s a grocery store, for God’s sake. This man was trying to fix it up.
And don’t, please don’t say that anyone should have “known better”—least of all because of the name. This Kroger’s neighbors include an antique shop and art gallery, the old City Hall East building and up-and-coming Ponce City Market, and one of the most popular, friendliest liquor stores in all the city. The BeltLine’s Eastside trail runs behind it. Less than a block up the street, people eat on restaurant patios without a care in the world.
One of Baltimore’s many nicknames is Bodymore, Murdaland (for Baltimore, Maryland). This nickname means different things to different people. To my friends, they use it ironically, but there is still a sense of pride there. I don’t think it’s pride that we come from such a violent city. Maybe it’s pride that we don’t murder people, despite our having been raised in “Murdaland.” That’s not for me to say, but one thing’s for certain. If my father were murdered in a place with that kind of nickname, I would hate it and anyone who used it.
So no, this isn’t a “badge of honor,” and it damn sure isn’t funny. But it also isn’t about a neighborhood’s “personality.” This is not like “Keep EAV Weird”—or Portland, or Austin, or wherever else. The people who want East Atlanta Village to keep its local flavor know how to do so without joking about (and ultimately perpetuating a culture of) cold-blooded murder.
So we can talk about class warfare and developers and gentrification, but let’s also talk about safety, yeah? Because we’re also talking about someone’s father. Time for us to shape up.