Sylvia CooperCity Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

First Friday forum is snoozefest, but sheriff debate is livelier

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It was a tough decision. Should I go to the forum at the library Wednesday to hear officials talk about First Friday after the shooting downtown that wounded six people? Or the 12th District Republican debate?

I chose the forum because I thought it might be livelier.

There was an air of excitement before it began, but it started evaporating after District 1 Augusta Com­mis­sioner Matt Aitken, who called the meeting, said a few words, the mayor spoke and moderator Rick Toole went over the ground rules with the panelists.

People started drifting out about the time Toole started talking about goals and objectives. I turned to the man sitting behind me and said, “Whadda you think?” and he said, “It’s like watching paint dry.”

Well, it was, until Sheriff Ronnie Strength, the most respected and loved man in Richmond County in my opinion, started firing away at the media for blowing the shootings out of proportion and making people think downtown is dangerous.

“The media has caused this perception of downtown,” he said.

The crowd must have agreed because he received two standing ovations.

Before the July 6 shootings, there had been only nine criminal calls downtown on First Fridays all year, he said.

“Things happen, and you can’t control them. If you can, by God, come down and help us,” Strength said.

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES: On Thursday, the Augusta branch of the NAACP held a forum for sheriff candidates at New Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church. Each candidate introduced himself and said what he’d do to make First Friday safe, after which candidate Lt. Robbie Silas left to attend a fundraiser.

In his introduction, Democratic candidate Lt. Richard Roundtree said, “We are less than 13 days away from changing the face of Augusta,” which I interpreted to mean the election of black Democratic challengers over white incumbents in the July 31 primary. Hattie Holmes-Sullivan is challenging incumbent Democrat Elaine Johnson, and Juvenile Court Judge Willie Saunders is challenging Augusta Judicial Cir­cuit Chief Judge Carlisle Overstreet.

Saunders, who won the first round in a challenge to his eligibility by Augusta lawyer Jack Long because of delinquent taxes, faces another challenge. Long’s attorney, former Gov. Roy Barnes, filed a motion Friday in the office of state administrative hearings, asking the judge to rule on the 2011 tax issue Saunders didn’t have in his Chapter 13 payment plan and whether Saunders had to pay his back taxes in full under his plan.

The judge previously didn’t rule on those points. The secretary of state also has to address the issues.

UNLOADING ON A LOADED QUESTION: While written questions from the audience at the NAACP forum were being sorted, moderator Mallory Millender, a retired Paine College professor, asked this question:

“Historically, there has been tension between the black community and law enforcement. Clint Bryant, in a piece in The Chronicle a couple of days ago, said that if the victims of First Friday had been white, there would be a stop to that. I’ve long heard there’s been a difference in the application of law enforcement east of the 15th Street versus west of 15th Street. We’ve all seen what is happening to Rodney King, Alfaigo Davis in Augusta, Cherry Tree Crossing. In every instance, a black person has been brutalized, and in almost every instance the brutalizer has been white, and they’ve been exonerated. My question is, will this change if you’re sheriff, and what will you do to make it change?”

Republican Michael Godowns said he’d promote black officers to higher ranks and make the department “blended.”

An “us against them mentality” has developed in the department, said Lt. John Ivey, a Democrat.

“And we must change that,” he said. “And I believe the only way you’re going to change that is to change from the top. You’ve got to have somebody with your interest at heart.”

Democratic candidate Capt. Scott Peebles said officers have to understand their job is to serve the community and not oversee it, which would take constant bombardment with that message.

“I think we have to show we want to be blended,” he said. “We have 23 percent African-American representation in the sheriff’s department and 60 percent in the community. Right now, we are not representative of the community we serve.”

Roundtree said black leaders are fighting that fight now. “And I’m ready to take up this fight,” he said.

“You’ve got to ask yourself why 60 percent of the population is African-American, and the department makes up 23 percent,” he said. “Why didn’t you do something 15 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago?”

Republican Freddie San­ders bristled, saying he was proud of the sheriff’s office and didn’t accept Millen­der’s premise that anybody would have been treated any different on Broad Street if they’d been white.

“I represented one of the deputies in Cherry Tree Crossing,” he said. “And shame on every one of these men who would get up here and not take up for the department they work for and say what they think you want to hear so they can get your vote.”

Not one man on the podium said one good word about the sheriff’s office under Strength, he said.

“And everybody wanted him to be re-elected. And the job he did. I will not condone anybody being mistreated because of their color,” Sanders said. “If they do, I will fire them on the spot in front of you. But how shameful it is for somebody to suggest the sheriff’s department in this town would turn their back on a crime because the victims are black. I don’t accept it. I’m insulted by it. And I am shocked that anybody on this podium would not take up for it. So if that makes you don’t vote for me, don’t vote for me.”

In rebuttal, Ivey said, “I‘m just up there telling the truth about what’s happening. It’s hard because I’m a member of this same department. We’re reactive instead of proactive. We’ve got to change the mentality of those guys.”

HAVE YOU STOPPED BEATING YOUR WIFE? Another question was, “How would you go about changing how your officers act in the ‘hood,’ i.e. the black neighborhood? As far as being nasty to the so-called ‘hood,’ your policemen are very, very nasty.”

Godowns said the department needs major changes from the top to the bottom.

Ivey said officers need sensitivity training and a change in mindset.

Peebles said officers should be servants and that mentality has to “bleed down” to every officer.

So if that’s going to be the goal now, why hadn’t it already filtered down, Roundtree asked – before answering himself.

“The mentality comes from the top. Those officers go out, and they represent the attitude of the people at the top – their leaders,” he said.

Sanders took great exception to the question and the term “the hood.”

“They’re neighborhoods and communities,” he said. “And I am not going to accept that question and acknowledge that they’re nasty to people in ‘the ‘hood.’ But if they are, they will not be on my department.”

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Patty-P 07/22/12 - 11:26 am

...and a similar incident happened to me and the person was never charged. Coincidentally he has went on to assault other people. I've been burglarized and the person(s) caught red-handed and not charged or arrested. It seems they have no intention on making an arrest for these types of things and it MUST be dependant on who the victim is. I have NEVER in my life heard of such injustice in my entire life. There is something very peculiar about that.

allhans 07/22/12 - 12:17 pm
I had one such call. I was re:11:18

I had one such call. I was asked if I was voting in the democrat primary, when I answered no, the female voice said "thank you" and hung up. Never was the name of an individu
al used.

Insider Information
Insider Information 07/22/12 - 01:40 pm
We all have opinions and we

We all have opinions and we can all share personal experiences, but the question is whether the sheriff's office is systemically racist, whether it is the policy and practice of the office as a whole to be racist.

Unfortunately, there are racist deputies in every department, but were these deputies following policy or following their own hateful attitudes?

The more I hear from the "leaders" of the black community, the more I am convinced that these "leaders" miss the days before the civil rights movement, days when they were actually relevant.

rebellious 07/22/12 - 04:01 pm
Patti P

There are, unfortunately, rules of law. Many moons ago I was the victim of an assault. It was not witnessed by anyone, only the aftermath. Police said they could not press charges without a witness. I chose to press charges, had the [filtered word]picked up on a Friday night which enabled him to spend the weekend in jail. Went to court and even demanded restitution for a shirt which was torn in the scuffle. Sometimes, we the people have to be aggressive. Oh and shortly after, I bought a .380 auto, aluminum jacketed hollow points and an ankle holster. Catch me unawares the next time. Just saying, the cops can't be everywhere. Time for citizens to grow a pair.

Patty-P 07/22/12 - 05:48 pm
rebellious that wasn't the

rebellious that wasn't the case with me. There will be times when a person is the victim of a violent crime and the officers have to do a proper and thorough investigation to get to the bottom of it. To just take a report, particularly when there are injuries, is unjust. Criminals don't do things for all to see, just because someone doesn't SEE them it doesn't mean they get away with the crime altogether. No wonder crime is the way it is.

countyman 07/22/12 - 06:40 pm
Here are two nice videos of

Here are two nice videos of the First Friday event in downtown Augusta... I think it's only right to show the normal settings due to rare incident that happen earlier this month.. The city needs to do a better job at promoting the CBD in general.. They also have to focus on increasing the weekly events held at the Common, Riverwalk, and 8th street Plaza... Along with additional street vendors/food trucks/live musicians, additional cops on bikes/foot patrol, the proposed cameras but included outside of Broad too, and the substation in an vacant building on Broad...

Riverman1 07/22/12 - 06:59 pm


I wouldn't be joking like that about the Sheriff's race after this week's suggestion of spousal abuse in other media by a big supporter of one candidate.

lynn7044 07/22/12 - 10:28 pm
The first problem is not

The first problem is not about the officer caring about our black communities, its about blacks caring about there own communities. Some people here in the RC area think people own them something. I relocated to RC area, living in the Walton Farm where my property tax is over $2500 a year. I get up go to work, send my children off to school each day. When you come home and your home have been broken into from someone that live in the project you get upset. Disrespect is disrespect and it ain't got nothing to do with the color of your skin. People here is so hung up on the color of one skin.
First, get up clean your house and your yard, take pride in where you live. Don't park on the grass, they have drive way for a reason, turn your music down the hold city don't care who you are listen to. Pull your pants up, when you see babies 2 or 3 yrs old with there jean sagging and they can't even walk good. Go to your kids school, don't go up in there talking loud and saying nothing when you know very well that your kids did wrong. Go, with a open mind you might just learn something yourself. The soaps are going to be on, cause you got the DVR any way so record it. Know where your kids are, that is not sheriff department job. You made them, so raise them! You are not your kids friend, you are the parent so act like. Either be it or stop having something you can't afford to raise. Go to the school board meeting and make them do there job, don't bring your butts out when things go wrong. Stop being so small minded and thinking you are above working at some places. Go to school or keep yourself in school, when Richmond County have the highest pregnant rate in GA there is a major problem.
Law Enforcement is there to enforce when people have disregard for the law. If black communities want Deputies to stay out, stop having your area primary locations for crime. When you see things wrong, say nothing, then you asks why a crime haven't been solve yet. Simple, you control your destiny for the area in which you live in. Don't get mad when these officer are doing there job and you stand in there face and just lie. Yes, there are some sheriff's officers in Richmond County who DOES turn their backs on crime dependant on the location of the crime. Some of these key leaders have been doing it and people (NAACP included) have let it happen. If Sheriff Ronnie Strength, have been running the sheriff department like this for all these years then it mean that those so call "Black Leaders" have been doing there job either. See things don't just start happening. This have been going on for years and because so many new people are moving into the area and question what's going on now people are trying to talk about it. So let's start fresh with new people in place at the top and start fixing the problems.
Just because you put someone black in charge don't mean he going to do right either, so vote for who you feelis telling the truth. I believe we need a friendly and peaceful work place, a work place where individuals respect each other, a work place free of racism, sexual harassment, and violence. When the work place is free of these obstructions, the employees and taxpayers, get maximum performance and production. Richmond County Sheriff's Office/Jail is free of these obstructions. Keeping it this way is everyone's responsibility but the leader must set the example.

This Is One Taxpayer Point

Truthbetold74 07/22/12 - 10:28 pm
Is it true that if you vote

Is it true that if you vote on the Republican primary and then there is a runoff on the democratic side that you will not be able to vote in it?
Odds are there is going to be a runoff between Roundtree and either Silas or Peebles.
If that is true and you want to be involved in the runoff wouldn't it then be better vote on the democratic side now? Especially since most don't beleive a Republican can win it all in November.

Patty-P 07/23/12 - 07:37 am

' If Sheriff Ronnie Strength, have been running the sheriff department like this for all these years then it mean that those so call "Black Leaders" have been doing there job either. See things don't just start happening. This have been going on for years and because so many new people are moving into the area and question what's going on now people are trying to talk about it. So let's start fresh with new people in place at the top and start fixing the problems.'

Agreed! Nice post. There are people (like myself) that came to the area years ago and saw a lot of confusion and things taking place that I had never seen in my life before. It makes you sit back and wonder how things got to be the way they are. Something needs to change soon or it will get worse.

noamsain 07/26/12 - 11:35 am
Roundtree said black leaders

Roundtree said black leaders are fighting that fight now. “And I’m ready to take up this fight,” he said. “You’ve got to ask yourself why 60 percent of the population is African-American, and the department makes up 23 percent,” he said. “Why didn’t you do something 15 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago?”

Roundtree-didn't you work for the school system where there is obvious racism against white male? Out of 55 schools in RCSS, only 5 are run by white males. Why didn't you stand up for the white men? WhHy didn't you holler there is something wrong where the county is 40% white and only represented by 9% white males. The last 3 white male Principals have not been replaced by white males.

Roundtree ought to know racism, he is part of the problem, not the solution.
The ONLY candidate who has taken the high road and is the most qualified is Freddie Sanders....he gets my vote

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