Fulton County takes national stage with historic Trump indictment

Blair Cummings and her son traveled from North Georgia to the Fulton County Jail to support Trump as he surrendered on August 24.
Blair Cummings and her son traveled from North Georgia to the Fulton County Jail to support Trump as he surrendered on August 24.
Sierra Pape
An Unprecedented Case

Headlining every national newspaper, Fulton County courts and jails took the national stage as former President Donald Trump and 18 of his allies were criminally charged for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

Now, the Atlanta community grapples with the impact such a high-profile case will have on the area.  

“I think having the most famous criminal indictment, the most famous case happening in the world right now, in our city, is going to affect not only political discussions and protests, but also, potentially, the future of voting in Georgia,” history teacher James Sullivan said.

Fulton County is now one of four courts in the nation charging Trump on felony counts. Prosecutors in Fulton County on Aug. 15 charged the Republican with 13 felony counts for efforts to unlawfully overturn his election loss in Georgia three years ago.

Midtown parent and Emory University law professor Kay Levine believes this is a historic moment for a county court.

“To bring a prosecution against a former president is an unprecedented act, and for Fani Willis (Fulton County district attorney) to do so, not even at the state level, but at the local level, is an extremely courageous thing,” Levine said. “But that is what the rule of law needs and requires.”

David+York%2C+Atlanta+Public+Schools+Executive+Support+Specialist%2C+was+in+a+crowd+of+people+at+local+bar%2C+Manuels+Tavern%2C+on+North+Highland+Drive+who+spent+the+entire+night+of+August+24th+watching+the+news+coverage+of+the+historic+event.
David York, Atlanta Public Schools Executive Support Specialist, was in a crowd of people at local bar, Manuel’s Tavern, on North Highland Drive who spent the entire night of August 24th watching the news coverage of the historic event. (Sierra Pape)
Echoing in the Halls

Due to proximity, the case stirred conversation and opinions throughout Midtown and the city. Junior Zach Chan noticed his case, in particular, has caused more conversations than other news stories.

“I think people really only care about national cases,” Chan said. “But with this case, I think just the gigantic nature has caused a bunch of Atlantans, and by extension, Midtown students, to talk and keep up with it. More people have been looking at the issues around, and I’ve seen tons of people actually discussing it, which I usually do not see with whatever stories are in the news at the time.”

The student conversations have made it to some classrooms. Sullivan has taken the case’s relevance and used it as a teaching opportunity.

“We’ve discussed this a lot in my Current Events class because it’s such a big deal,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s important for all students to know about the historic nature of this because it just cannot be overstated.”

Levine believes the discussion can not only facilitate education about political events, it can also educate on standard legal processes.

“I think anytime very prominent criminal cases make their way out of just legal news outlets into mainstream media, there is an education function that happens for members of the population,” Levine said. “And I think that education is extremely important.”

Many of the indictment counts fall under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is both a federal and state law that were created to combat organized crime. RICO has been historically used to charge against mafia and gang violence. 

Count one, which claims a violation of Georgia’s RICO Act, would earn the defendants a maximum of 20 years jail time. 

“The RICO Act was originally created by the federal government in the early 1970s to combat organized crime, and specifically, the mafia,” Georgia State University Law Professor and RICO expert Chris Timmons said. “Georgia adopted it in the early 1980s, in part, because of some issues with organized crime, in part, because of issues with gangs and, in part, because it’s a useful statute for dealing with white-collar crimes.”

Chan, who takes a personal interest in politics and government, has taken the time to read the Georgia indictments and educate himself about the specific RICO laws  used in the case. He recognized their unique power in Georgia and the Trump case. 

“What I’ve been reading in a couple of articles is that the RICO statutes in Georgia are significantly more serious and expansive than the federal ones,” Chan said. “So, the way that [Fani] Willis has set up the case is uniquely a big deal in Georgia. I think the fact that it’s in Fulton County, maybe isn’t that big of a deal, but the fact that it’s in Georgia certainly has enabled that use of the RICO statutes in a way that people wouldn’t normally have seen or expected.”

Timmons believes the case has brought an increased national recognition to Georgia legislation, which he said is beneficial. 

“I think people are more aware,” Timmons said. “Three weeks ago, nobody cared about the Georgia RICO Act.  I think it’s important for everyone to understand how the criminal justice system works. It’s great that that’s happening, but it’s really sad that it’s a case involving the former president of the United States.”

Levine said the RICO Act has been a powerful tool for prosecutors because of its versatility. Prior to the Trump indictment, the RICO Act had been used for a variety of local cases, including a major one involving Atlanta Public Schools. 

“Georgia courts have used [RICO] in plenty of fairly creative instances, including the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, and [Fani] Willis was the lead prosecutor on that case, with a very tightly drafted indictment,” Levine said. “In that case, a lot of people pled guilty, and when they went to trial, they convicted 11 of 12 people of that charge, and they use the same theory.”

 

 

From simply learning what an indictment is to understanding the intricacies of RICO statutes in Georgia, students and community residents are learning at different levels as they are immersed into this historic case. Levine believes the case is an opportunity to apply civics concepts to real life and understand their significance. 

“In APS, students have to take a civics class where you hear about the workings of government, but it can feel very abstract,” Levine said. “So much about things that happened during the Trump presidency brought to people what was previously an abstract idea, but in a very concrete way. It is truly the courts pushing back on the president exerting power over other areas of government. This is a civics class brought to life.”

 

“In APS, students have to take a civics class where you hear about the workings of government, but it can feel very abstract. This is a civics class brought to life.”

— Kay Levine

 

Midtown graduate Royce Mann has delved into Georgia politics by running for the Atlanta school board; he’s also been an engagement coordinator for Senator Raphael Warnock’s 2022 Senate campaign and has contributed to various nonprofit organizations such as “March For Our Lives.” He said education surrounding the Trump indictment is critical at Midtown.

“I think [the case] is definitely something that should not be shied away from in the classroom,” Mann said. “Being this close to historical events like this is something that can help connect, especially social studies topics, to things that are more relevant to students’ lives today. I think it’s definitely something that will influence people’s views of the world and our politics in the U.S., and I think that by being closer to it, we’re going to be more impacted by it.”

Sullivan believes the case presents a unique opportunity as a gateway for students and youth to become educated on federal political issues beyond the classes required for graduation.

“As students are progressing and learning about the world around them, you often start at the local level and eventually understand national and international, but this event has allowed so many to begin to understand something broader than just their community,” Sullivan said. “This is crucial, and if students can become knowledgeable about these topics in high school, we are in a great place.”

As+the+indictments+headlined+national+newspapers%2C+politicians+like+Marjorie+Taylor+Greene+%5Bdepicted%5D+shared+their+opinions+on+the+case.+
As the indictments headlined national newspapers, politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene [depicted] shared their opinions on the case. (Sierra pape)
Midtown in the Middle

For residents of Fulton County and Midtown, the Trump indictments have drawn personal sentiments, as people feel tied to the case through the conversation about their voting rights. 

On Aug. 24, as Trump surrendered at Fulton County Jail, several Georgia residents stood on the adjacent streets to witness the historic event. Evan Smith, a Lakeside High School graduate and Fulton County resident, held a sign that read “Finally Trump Arrested! Again and again!” near the entrance to the jail. He said his connection to the case compelled him to come out. 

“When Donald Trump came in and called the Secretary of State of Georgia [Brad Raffensberg] saying, ‘I want 11,780 votes,’ he directly called and asked to throw out my mom’s vote, my grandma’s vote, my grandpa’s vote, and all my great aunts and uncles’ votes,” Smith said. “With that one call, he announced that we don’t have the same rights that he has.”

This call from Trump to Raffensburg on Jan. 2, 2021, during which Trump urged Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to overturn Georgia’s election results and threatened Raffensperger if he failed to do so, sparked Atlanta residents to understand the small margins that were in this case.

“Your vote matters,” Atlanta City Councilman and Grady alumnus Matt Westmoreland said. “I think sometimes that can be harder to believe, at the national level. But when you look at just how narrow the margin was in Georgia, that means votes everywhere, Midtown included, are really valuable and important.”

 

“Your vote matters.”

— Matt Westmoreland, Atlanta Citycouncilman

 

After collaborating with the school’s chapter of “When We All Vote,” a nonpartisan, national organization for voting advocacy, senior and President of Midtown Votes Imani Johnson along with fellow club members registered over 400 youth to vote in the 2022-2023 acedemic school year. Equating to about three percent of the votes Trump referenced to Brad Raffensburger, this put into perspective for Johnson the importance of the youth vote in upcoming cases in Georgia. 

“Youth have the ability to reshape the way our society and government as a whole is run,” Johnson said. “If students and teens all around don’t enjoy the way that the world and our country is being run, then it is up to us to change it, and that starts with a vote.”

Janis Simms, resident of Blairsville, Georgia, has stood in solidarity with Trump at numerous events. However, in this particular case, she is valuing her own voting rights over the verdict in favor of the former president.

“I have real questions about the state of the security of Georgia voting,” Simms said. “I just want it to be an honest, valid election and [allow] the people decide. I just want my voice to be heard.”

Some other residents of Fulton County share a similar point of view. Amistad Aromad walked down the street from his house to bear witness at the Fulton County Jail to the case because he felt Trump’s claims affected his personal rights.

“To hear him make a phone call asking for votes was just an invalidation of my personal vote,” Aromad said. “I believe that everyone has the right to vote, and I believe this indictment is a stand for justice, just like Atlanta’s long history of democracy and justice.”

Amistad+Aromad+walked+down+the+street+to+the+Fulton+County+Jail+to+in+his+words+see+justice+play+out.
Amistad Aromad walked down the street to the Fulton County Jail to in his words “see justice play out.” (Sierra Pape)
Continued Atlanta Legacy of Justice

Trump’s indictment is one in a long history of Georgia cases that has represented democracy and justice for many citizens.

Willis has been positioned in the spotlight for her substantial role in the Trump indictment. As the first female DA in Fulton County, Willis has been a source of inspiration for many youth including Johnson.

“I think having a strong national judge, who is also a black woman, is incredibly important for the development of black youth’s psyches,” Johnson said. “By seeing someone that looks like us succeeding in such a critical way to the justice of our nation, we are allowed to dream up opportunities and lifestyles that several decades ago we would’ve deemed unqualified and unworthy to pursue. Representation is such a key component of life, especially for people who look like me.”

 

 

Speech and forensics teacher Mario Herrera believes Willis’s work and recognition in this case represents long overdue publicity for black women, particularly in the state of Georgia. 

“Fani Willis is the archetypal, strong southern black woman,” Herrera said. “Georgia has a recent history of very strong African American women for the past 40 years, and I love that. I think it’s long overdue because people don’t quite understand the impact of African American culture on Atlanta and Georgia.”

Levine recognizes the gravity of this case in displaying the growth in our democracy and the influence of the participants in this case on the future role of women in politics.

“By itself, it’s really an astounding, historically overwhelming moment for our democracy, to say that lower-level officials are willing to put themselves at the front lines,” Levine said. “But the fact that both [Fani] Willis and the Attorney General of New York [Letitia James] are women is empowering, because a lot of times the blowback on people who stand up to people in power can take on gender dimensions, but they are here to say ‘This is my job, and I am going to do what’s right.’”

Levine said this case has been historic, not just pertaining to its contents, but in defining the standards of the representative government of Georgia and the nation as a whole.

“Every single judge who was asked to rule on claims brought by the former president and his entourage – Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell and so forth – showed courage by saying, ‘No, the courts are not going to be participants in your theories, and courts require evidence,’” Levine said. “So, that was a critically important series of moments for our democracy.” 

Despite differing viewpoints and opinions on the Trump case, Herrera believes the case has highlighted the people’s desire for a democracy where their voice has an impact.

“What [this case] shows for Georgia is our value of democracy,” Herrera said. “We love independence, and we have an attitude of bringing it. It is a very interesting time in Georgia right now and living here, watching this almost feels like a Netflix special.”

Westmoreland said that the case emphasized the importance of Georgia’s votes in the outcomes of the previous presidential election in 2020 as well as the forthcoming presidential election in 2024. 

“Georgia, both in 2020 and I think again in 2024, is really one of the handful of states that decided the last presidential election, and will help decide the next one,” Westmoreland said. “So, I think that because of that, Georgia and metro Atlanta have an outsized role in preserving our government that has become increasingly under threat. The voters here are going to play a really important role in what happens in 2024, which will impact the country for a long time to come after that.”

 

*Sierra Pape is involved in Midtown Votes.

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Sierra pape, News Managing Editor
Sierra Pape is a junior and this is her third year on the Southerner staff. When she is not writing, you will find her running for the Midtown cross country team, working for Midtown Votes and political organizations outside of school, and singing and playing the guitar. She is excited to contribute to the paper for years to come.
Connie Erdozain, A&E Managing Editor
Connie Erdozain is a junior and this is her third year writing for the Southerner. When she isn't writing, Connie enjoys painting, playing the piano, reading and spending time with her friends.
Diana Jachman, Multimedia Managing Editor
Diana Jachman is a senior, and this is her thrid year writing for The Southerner. She currently writes and produces video productions for the website. Outside of The Southerner, Diana is involved with Midtown's Theater program. She is so excited to continue working on the paper this year.
Molly Thompson, A&E Associate Managing Editor
Molly Thompson is a junior in her third year on the Southerner staff. She is a member of the cross country team and plays soccer. Apart from school and sports, Molly loves spending time with her friends, reading, and hanging out with her pets.

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