Originally created 08/06/99

Ruminates on review board dispute

I just completed my time as chair of the Augusta-Richmond County Human Relations Commission ... (and) would like to address some issues from my service related to the Sheriff's Civilian Review Board proposal. I am sad to say people still do not search out information about things. They are satisfied with a 30-second blip or editorial com-ment. This puts all the responsibility on the media or the poll of the moment when it should be on an informed citizenry.

First, the personalizing of an issue is generally wrong. ... I have been besieged by people accusing me of working against Sheriff Charlie Webster. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are good friends. ...

Second, my involvement in (the review board) issue was as chair of the commission. I participated in the deliberations and meetings. Once approved, I helped disseminate the commission's position. That did not mean I agreed with all of the proposal but I was charged by our ordinance to fairly administer the commission. I attempted to stay clearly in the middle of the road, which was my job as chair ...

Finally, the citizen involvement issue is a very positive thing and is never meant to be negative or controlling. The issue is trust in local law enforcement. Our data show that in massive numbers minorities do not have confidence in law enforcement. Whether true or not, perception becomes reality. This lack of trust existed before there was a controversial case involving a citizen's death at the hands of an officer. ...

While I and many of my west Augusta neighbors do not have a problem trusting the police, others do. Nobody plans for this to happen, so what is the answer? Do we sit back and wait until the county is majority black for the election of all black officials? Will a black sheriff, with all black deputies, be the answer? Will minorities only have trust in one of their own?

I hope not but, if there is no other solution, that's where we are headed. I want to keep reaching out to all people, trying new things, and building bridges.

My desire is not that Augusta become Atlanta, but better. We have the potential to achieve it but not as a community divided.

James C. Murray, Jr., Augusta


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