ATLANTA — Paul Harris, Jr. was born in Grady hospital. So was his father, Paul, Sr. The younger Harris found himself praying for a miracle Monday night at that same hospital, after his father was shot randomly on his way home from work.
Harris said his dad, who works in the hospitality industry, usually avoids taking the highway home because of his limited sight. He was less than five minutes from his doorstep when several gunshots rang out. Paul Harris, Sr. was shot in the jaw, while another woman had her car shot. Harris's family said the fact that he's alive is a miracle.
“That’s the way we have to look at this, because wrong place wrong time of course," Harris said. "But we still have our dad, and that’s the most important thing to us right now. They could have been worse. We’re just lucky that right now, the bullet is still inside of his jaw area. It didn’t touch his brain at all, so we’re just very thankful for that.”
Police have yet to name a suspect or motive in the shooting. Earlier this month, a grandmother was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting at the gas station known as the "Shoot 'em up Chevron." The long list of crimes committed in the Lakewood Heights community has gotten the attention of organizers. Kimberlee Jones, who has made south Atlanta her home for several years, blames a historic lack of resources in the community. Atlanta Police are currently suffering a deficit of at least four-hundred officers, per Chief Rodney Bryant.
“People just have the impression that it’s an area where pretty much anything goes without getting repercussions," Jones said. "At the beginning of the year, right after we changed the guard at mayor, I noticed a strong uptick in police presence. It has since waned somewhat.”
Gloria Hawkins-Wynn, vice chair of the Lakewood Heights Community, said history points to the steady rise in crime in the area. She noted the closure of the General Motors plant in the neighborhood, which left the area without major jobs, investment and development. Since then, the Great Recession and the pandemic have exacerbated the quality of life in the neighborhood, Hawkins-Wynn said.
"Folks on the streets believe there isn’t enforcement to the degree that’s expected or needed," Hawkins-Wynn said. “We’ve experienced a number of violent crimes, and it takes on a much higher profile per capita, when you look at what we’ve experienced based on our total population. That is what has heightened emotions, heightened calls for accountability, enforcement.”
Hawkins-Wynn is hopeful that Beltline development, new investment and controlled gentrification will bring what she calls a neighborhood "in transition" through a crime-riddled past and into an era of prosperity and safety. She said efforts to add more off-duty patrols in surrounding areas has paid off and resulted in lower crime. She believes the same can happen for Lakewood Heights.
"We are part of that vitality, revitalization, reemerging Lakewood. It’s been ebbs and flows," Hawkins-Wynn said.
Paul Harris wants answers for what he calls unreasonable gun violence. He said his father will likely need facial reconstructive surgery. And while Harris's father received a miracle, Harris said others may not be so lucky.
“What’s upsetting is that this could have been anybody, anybody’s dad, it could have been me," Harris said. "Nobody wants this type of violence in our community. It is important for us to get some answers, any kind of justice, because nobody wants this.”