By Adalius Thomas, Former All-Pro NFL Linebacker and Players Coalition Advocate
In May, the nation witnessed police officers murder George Floyd. For months protesters rallied against decades of police brutality, while demanding elected officials consider a paradigm shift to hold law enforcement accountable. Now, we must turn that energy into voting, and while there is one critical election everyone knows about, we must look closely at what is farther down the ballot: Sheriff’s elections.
This year, there are dozens of county sheriff’s elections taking place across Georgia. Each of these elections offer Georgians an opportunity to have a say in how our communities are policed and how our jails are run. If we want massive change, it is time to show up at the ballot box and pay attention to these races. Sheriffs are the highest police authority in each county — and in many counties, they are the only police force. Sheriffs oversee policing practices, jail conditions, and Georgia’s immigration enforcement. They are responsible for 143 county jails across the state that hold 26,700 people — 68% of whom are being detained pretrial, meaning they’ve not been found guilty. Georgia sheriffs have struck eight cooperation agreements with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agreements that allow ICE to grab pretrial detainees and conducted traffic stops that have led to 5,600 residents being removed from their communities and deported.
When we vote, we demonstrate our power. We make it clear that we stand ready to hold our public officials accountable for their behavior. Now, more than ever, we need to educate ourselves about who is policing us, how we are being policed, and ensure we are voting for people who value our lives. Sheriffs have the power to reduce arrests for less serious offenses and to end traffic stops for equipment violations which disproportionately occur to people of color. Sheriffs’ can demand immediate and serious discipline including arrest for law enforcement officials that use unlawful deadly force and/or repetitive use of force violations. Sheriffs can work to close jails by helping to reduce the pre-trial population, halt new jail construction, end ICE cooperation, and replace resource (school) officers with guidance/mental health counselors. The last three mass school shootings had resource officers present and the shootings were not prevented. Additionally, sheriffs have the power to ensure inmates receive mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and not solitary confinement; and most importantly sheriffs can use their tremendous power to build a sense of community perpetuity.
In 2020, the power of collective action has been on full display, communities across Georgia came together to demand justice for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others. We need to bring that power to the polls, combine our voices and help hold law enforcement accountable.
Go to TransformGeorgia.org to find out more about your local candidates, your county sheriff budget, and the history of sheriffs in America. Remember to always vote!
Players Coalition is structured as an independent 501(c)(3) (charity) and 501(c)(4) (advocacy) organization, working with professional athletes, coaches and owners across leagues to improve social justice and racial equality in our country.