Three counties in Atlanta are going to have the first Black sheriffs in their respective history after the three men, who are all Democrats, were elected to fill the seats during Tuesday’s election.
Craig Owens, a police major, defeated long-time Cobb County Republican Sheriff Neil Warren whilst electorates in Gwinnett County chose Keybo Taylor over his opponent, Luis Solis. Reginald Scandrett also edged over Jack Redlinger in Henry County.
“It’s music to my ears,” Owens, who defeated his opponent by a margin of almost 35,000 votes (54.7% to 45.2%), told the news outlet after his victory. “I’ve been waiting for this for well over a year.”
“We have an opportunity to make history and that’s something we don’t take lightly,” he continued. “We’re gonna come in prepared being the professionals that we are and we’re gonna run this county like it should be. We’re going to treat everybody in this county with dignity and respect.”
Over in Gwinnett and Henry counties, Taylor and Scandrett also convincingly beat their opponents by 57% to 43%, and 60.3% to 39.7%.
“Yesterday, we finished the drill,” Taylor told his supporters on Wednesday, Gwinnett Daily Post reported. “You lifted your voices at the polls and stood in solidarity with an agenda that includes all of Gwinnett.”
The Cobb County Board of Elections will officially certify the election results on November 12. Their historic victories, according to Owens, go a long way to show how the metro Atlanta area is evolving when it comes to diversity.
“I think that will show a young black man, or a female, that they could also be the sheriff one day,” Owens told Channel 2 Action News.
Leading up to the election, Owens and Taylor promised sweeping reforms when given the mandate. In Cobb County, Owens’ predecessor, Warren, faced intense scrutiny over the conditions of the county jail following the deaths of several inmates during his incumbency in the last year.
“We’re gonna do things differently in Cobb. We’re gonna do things the right way,” Owens promised. “You can see how much Cobb has changed. And I think Cobb was due for a change.”
Owens’ and Taylor’s victories also mean they are most likely to scrap a federal partnership their respective counties have with the ICE following promises they made to cut ties with the agency during their campaigns. Known as 287(g), the program allows local deputies, who are trained and mandated by the ICE to act on their behalf, to identify, detain and deport undocumented immigrants in their custody, according to The Appeal. The immigrants usually end up in county jails for traffic and other non-violent offenses.
Locals, however, argue the program unfairly targets Latinos, Africans, Muslims and other immigrants and also scares people out of reporting crimes for fear of being deported. In Gwinnett County, for instance, the number of ICE detainees under the program shot up after Donald Trump assumed office.
“There’s all kinds of crimes being committed in these neighborhoods that are not being reported because people are afraid they’re going to be deported as well,” Taylor told The Appeal.
Owens also said the program “often turns into profiling, looking at Africans, Latinos, Muslims and other immigrants. It causes all types of problems, is expensive to maintain and I don’t see why the county should be involved in it.”
And though the ICE could retaliate with raids as they did in 2018 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, after a newly-elected Sheriff ended the program, Taylor, during a virtual debate with his opponent leading up to the election, said he would still take the high road.
“It’s almost like an ultimatum: either I cooperate with ICE or I’m going to be responsible for what they do in my neighborhoods. I take issue with them conducting raids simply because I refuse to participate in 287(g),” Owens said. “At the end of the day, I still won’t participate.”