– Thursday, August 3, 2023 –

Good morning. The Undercurrent newsletter is back after a brief hiatus. This week, we’re covering Savannah’s response to increasing car crash deaths and injuries, a new effort to block a district attorney oversight board, and why Georgia’s U.S. senator says gun violence is a voting rights issue.

Let’s dive in.

Crashes on the rise

Savannah intersection
The intersection of 37th Street and Ogeechee Road in Savannah, which is one of the highlighted intersections from a $23 million grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve traffic safety along 37th Street. Credit: City of Savannah

Fatal and serious injury car crashes in Savannah grew last year after a record high in 2021.

The number of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians who died or sustained serious injuries in crashes rose by 46% between 2020 and 2021 — from 127 to 186. The trend continued in 2022: there were 187 such crashes, according to new data from Georgia Department of Transportation.

To combat this, Savannah city officials put forth an ambitious $23 million grant request to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The money would go towards building out the city’s loop of bike paths and walking trails to provide an alternative to driving. It would also add a number of key improvements to 37th Street, considered a dangerous traffic corridor.

Read more about the sweeping proposal and the new traffic data here.

Are there traffic issues you think deserve more attention in Coastal Georgia? Reach out to us at thecurrentga@gmail.com.

DAs sue to stop oversight bill

Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones speaks during a roundtable discussion of legal issues hosted by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus at Savannah State University on July 21, 2023. Credit: Benjamin Payne/GPB News

The fate of a prosecutor oversight commission could have consequences for public safety in Coastal Georgia.

Three district attorneys near Atlanta and one near Augusta filed suit Wednesday asking a Fulton County judge to invalidate the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Qualifications Commission. They allege that the new oversight board meant to discipline, investigate and even remove so-called “progressive prosecutors” is a legislative overreach into the judicial branch and distracts from prosecuting serious offenses.

Why does this political fight matter? Prosecutors have broad discretion on what charges to bring for certain crimes. A new generation of prosecutors, including Chatham County’s district attorney, have sought to use their posts to reduce mass incarceration as well as prosecute. Those efforts include declining to prosecute low-level marijuana charges and funding diversion programs for youth offenders.

Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed the bill into law at the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office in May, said legislators want prosecutors to stay in their lanes: “People are finally fed up with local prosecutors that simply are not doing their job.”

The location of the bill signing raised questions as to whether Chatham County’s embattled DA Shalena Cook Jones would be the commission’s first target. Last week, DA Jones criticized the commission at a Georgia Legislative Black Caucus roundtable in Savannah. Read more about what she had to say.

Sen. Warnock says gun violence is a voting issue

Reverend Raphael Warnock
Reverend Raphael Warnock speaking at the GOTV Rally in Savannah in October 2022. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current GA

In a recent interview, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said barriers to gun safety reform include partisan gerrymandering and the outsize influence of corporate money in politics.

The issues of voting rights and gun violence are not usually linked so explicitly, but the Savannah-native said “they are part and parcel of the same project.”

“I think those of us who want gun safety want people to vote. And I think people who like the status quo want fewer people to vote,” Warnock told The Trace. Read more about his comments.

Savannah requests $23M grant in response to rising car crash deaths, injuries

Data shows car crashes in Savannah resulting in death and serious injury for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians grew again in 2022 after record high reached in 2021.

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Savannah DA slams Georgia’s new prosecutor oversight board as ‘dangerous’ to criminal justice reform

The district attorney in Savannah’s Chatham County is denouncing the Georgia’s new Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, which is tasked with investigating complaints of alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

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‘Right here, right now’: Warnock demands GOP colleagues debate major voting rights legislation

Warnock took to the podium for a floor speech ahead of an initial vote that will decide if the For the People Act, a massive Democrat-led voting reform bill. But hours later, GOP lawmakers carried through with their pledge to freeze any movement of the bill using the filibuster. All 50 Democratic […]

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Georgia Legislative Black Caucus reveals goals during its golden anniversary meet in Savannah

Analysis of zip codes throughout the United States highlights Chatham County as having significant disparities.

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Georgia traffic, broadband needs highlighted in Biden infrastructure plan

The high-priced “America Jobs Plan,” which has not yet gained Congress’ approval, would take aim at road and bridge repairs to cut down on Georgia commute times that have increased nearly 11% over the past decade, according to a White House fact sheet of the issued Monday.

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State posting more than 700 bridges with higher truck weight allowances

The 10% exemption letting trucks run with up to 88,000 pounds of cargo applies only to trucks hauling agricultural products – including livestock – and logs. However, the exemption does not apply in the 13-county Atlanta region.

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...