Because metro Atlanta is what it is, you have a good grasp of what road rage is.
But consider that – again, because metro Atlanta is what it is — we may need to add another syndrome to our list of social ills:
Call it mortgage rage.
Several days ago, Jean-Joseph Kalonji and his wife Angelica drove to a Newton County home just purchased by their grown son. The couple was in the midst of changing the locks on the doors when they were surprised by two strangers clutching semi-automatic rifles.
Robert Canoles and his teenaged son Branden figured the Kalonji’s for trespassers and ordered the unarmed, middle-aged pair to freeze. Deputies were summoned – and rather than listen to the Kalonjis, locked the newcomers up.
In the end, the Canoles were the ones who ended up being charged with aggravated assault, false imprisonment – and trespass. The judgment of the Newton County deputies is under formal review.
It isn’t premature to declare that this single event probably generated enough watts of stupidity to light up Congress for a month. Race is one obvious subtext of the incident. Jean-Joseph is from Zaire – his wife is from Romania. Vigilantism, and the hurried rush to weaponry by the Canoles, has been another point of conversational entry.
The last thing anyone wants is to excuse the inexcusable, but in the Newton County incident, the one fact that leaped out at me was this: The home and 11 acres purchased by Bruno Kalonji, a well-employed electrician, had lain vacant for seven months, in foreclosure.
Tens of thousands of homeowners in metro Atlanta have staked their life savings on 30-year mortgages – and have been forced to walk away. Whole communities have been depopulated, and the survivors are more than skittish. Paranoid visions of what’s happening to the empty house across the way – and what remains of the neighborhood’s property values — become part of the package.
Not long ago, our daughter landed a student teaching gig at Hiram High School in Paulding County. Her classroom was in a trailer at the farthest reach of the campus – right up against a subdivision. Her parents weren’t particularly happy about the isolation.
So on a bright Sunday afternoon, after a bike ride, we decided to scout the geography. As cyclists, we wear tight black shorts and gaudy shirts. This is not something to be proud of, but it figures into the tale.
With the tandem strapped to the back of a small pick-up, we drove to the high school – but found access blocked by construction. So we drove into the subdivision to have a look from the back side.
More than 1,500 subdivisions in the Atlanta region have sat dormant for at least a year in the wake of the housing bust, according to one study. This was one of them. The neighborhood was a forest of PVC pipes and bare dirt.
We drove down one empty street, then another – and spotted a cul-de-sac that overlooked our daughter’s trailer. As we approached the high ground, we passed the only two occupied homes in the neighborhood.
In front of one, a man was doing yard work with his wife and young son. We waved.
The man approached, and with a smile and a very friendly manner, asked us our business. We told him – slightly embarrassed to engage in conversation in our bicycle togs.
“There’s nothing for you to see there,” he said. We thanked him for his opinion, and I took my foot off the truck’s brake, prepared to continue.
The friendly man disappeared, replaced by one whose face was twisted in anger. He stepped back, reached behind his back, pulled out a badge and declared himself to be a law enforcement officer.
This road was private, he roared. (Not true — street had been deeded to the county years earlier.) He ordered us to leave. When we demurred, he pulled out a cell phone and feigned a phone call to the sheriff’s office.
The man was not armed. But had we kept going, that condition might have changed by the time we made the return trip past his house – and so we retreated.
I called the Paulding County sheriff’s department the next day. They took the incident seriously, and presumably paid the fellow a visit.
My point is this: Like the Kalonjis, my wife and I were engaged in nothing suspicious. We wore no hoodies. Our clothing might have been purchased at Barnum & Bailey—that’s how threatening our appearance was.
But put a mortgage underwater, in a subdivision unlikely to be filled out for years if not decades, and many a person’s judgment would begin to fail. Everyone, everything becomes a threat.
Certainly, that’s not the only thing that happened in Newton County. But I’m willing to bet it was part of the goulash.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider